New Research Offers New Hope to PTSD Victims

New Research Offers New Hope to PTSD Victims

In a new study, Israeli doctors say intense oxygen therapy may ease the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in combat veterans.

Researchers believe the oxygen enables the brain to expand and heal itself. Professor Hermona Soreq, who was not affiliated with the study, said the results were encouraging. “This may be the beginning of new promise, which calls for special attention,” she stated. However, this study is  “early research with a small sample,” she added. “PTSD is a growing concern in many societies, Israel included and it does cause long-term physical damage to the human brain, highlighting the need for new treatment modalities,” she concluded.

In 2020, a veteran of the 2014 Gaza conflict, who struggled with PTSD, immolated himself outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Israeli Defense Ministry.

PTSD: Brain Injury or Processing Disorder?

Once upon a time, scientists believed that schizophrenia was a processing disorder that physical therapy could easily cure. Researchers debunked that myth, and doctors moved on. Scientists once believed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was a similar condition. Researchers have debunked that myth, yet many doctors cling to the “processing disorder” diagnosis. 

Exposure to extremely stressful situations, like combat, alters the brain’s chemical composition. The amygdala (part of the brain that controls emotional responses) gets bigger. As a result, the cerebral cortex (logical responses) shrinks.

When I go to a morning meeting and see a box of donuts, my amygdala tells me to eat as many as I want because they are tasty. My cerebral cortex tells me not to eat any so I will not gain weight. So, I compromise and eat one. Or perhaps two.

PTSD alters that equation by changing brain chemistry. This imbalance produces symptoms which make it difficult to function, like:

  • Depression,
  • Anger,
  • Hypervigilance,
  • Nightmares, and
  • Flashbacks.

Because of this difficulty, PTSD is normally at least partially disabling, at least until victims receive effective treatment. More on that below.

Chemical issues require chemical treatment. We do not mean self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Instead, we mean advanced chemical therapy.

Oxygen therapy is just one example. MDMA (Molly, or Ecstacy) is another example. Some PTSD victims improve significantly after just one dose of this powerful drug. The effects of marijuana are as yet unproven. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, there are few studies. Most of the existing evidence is anecdotal or inconclusive.

The American Experience with PTSD

Almost as early as men began going to war against other men, which is pretty early, reports of brain injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder emerged. But for thousands of years, the reports were sporadic.

That environment began changing around the Civil War, especially among Union forces. Normally, these Northern boys were very far from home, and because of conscription, they often had little or no combat experience. That is already a stressful environment. When bullets start flying and cannon shells start exploding, that is even more stressful.

When soldiers exhibited the aforementioned symptoms, doctors usually diagnosed them with nostalgia, which was an advanced form of homesickness. We scoff at that diagnosis today, but it was not too far off base. Unfortunately for these victims, Civil War-era doctors had a prescription for this condition. Doctors usually recommended transfer to a front line unit or one that was involved in an offensive campaign. Of course, doctors did not know that this assignment probably caused the soldier’s symptoms to begin with.

Things went up a notch in World War I. Note that Civil War soldiers never wore metal helmets. There was simply no need for them. Artillery usually did not inflict serious injury unless a shell burst directly overhead. In the Civil War, the world’s armies typically used picric acid, the primary ingredient in fireworks, in their cannonballs. A few years before the Great War started, most of the world’s armies switched to TNT, which was much more destructive.

This innovation, along with poison gas, machine guns, and other such weapons, significantly increased the number of PTSD cases. Back then, doctors usually said the victim had shell shock or railroad spine, a reference to the fact that PTSD makes some victims very rigid.

At least World War I doctors usually pulled PTSD victims off the front and sent them home for R&R. They usually only received physical therapy while there, at best. But that is better than going over the top again and again.

Unfortunately, progress took a step back in World War II and Vietnam. WWII PTSD victims were often diagnosed with battle fatigue and given a few hours rest in a field hospital. Then, it was once more unto the breach, dear friends, so a soldier with a visible injury can have this bed. Later, Vietnam PTSD vets were often written off by doctors and society as monsters who could not be helped.

Now, because of emerging science, things are getting better for PTSD victims. In fact, the Canadian Armed Forces recently stopped using this designation and replaced it with OSI, or Operational Stress Injury. OSI victims are entitled to Canada’s version of a Purple Heart.

Injury Compensation Available

These injury victims are usually entitled to compensation for their lost wages and medical bills. However, the Defense Base Act insurance company does not simply give these benefits away.

Strict time deadlines usually apply in these cases. Reporting deadlines are usually not a problem in gunshot wound and other trauma injury cases. Even after a relatively minor incident, most victims see doctors and file reports. Occupational disease claims, like PTSD, are different. Initially, it is hard to distinguish between Post Traumatic Stress, which is a lot like situational depression, and PTSD, which is a chronic condition. So, by the time they file reports, the claims deadline has passed.

Normally, these victims still have legal options, thanks to the delayed discovery rule. However, the claim is much more complex.

Additionally, injured contractors do not have to see a company doctor. In most cases, they may see the doctor of their choice. So, their medical bills are often higher, mostly because a company doctor only does the minimum necessary.

As a result, most DBA claims do not settle quickly. Instead, they proceed to a settlement conference. A third-party mediator reviews the medical records and other paperwork in the file. Then, the mediator tries to facilitate a settlement between the two sides.

Since this conference happens so early in the process, it rarely succeeds. So, most claims proceed to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

An ALJ hearing is basically a private, non-jury trial. The ALJ, who serves as both legal referee and fact finder, is usually a Department of Labor employee or contractor. So, the ALJ is reasonably independent. Furthermore, at this hearing, lawyers may challenge evidence, introduce evidence, and make legal arguments. This combination usually encourages DBA insurance companies to settle these claims on victim-friendly terms.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.