In The News
OP-ED: It's time to take the offensive in the war on PTSD
Harrisburg, December 19, 2019
Tags: Veterans Issues
Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer and his team came under such heavy enemy fire near the Afghan village of Ganjigal that it sounded to him like they were surrounded by static electricity. Despite imminently life-threatening dangers, he intentionally made five forays headlong into a hail of gunfire, killing several enemy insurgents while evacuating two dozen Afghan soldiers and recovering the bodies of four Americans, including three of his team members.
A hero by any stretch of the definition, Sgt. Meyer became the first living Marine in more than four decades to receive a Medal of Honor – America's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration awarded for extraordinary acts of valor.
But his heroism came at a great personal cost – the war came home with him.
Anxious, quick to anger and unable to get the war out of his head, Sgt. Meyer was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is far from alone.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates between 11 and 20 percent of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom Veterans have PTSD in a given year; 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans; and, 15 percent of Vietnam Veterans suffer with PTSD annually. Sadly, only 40 percent of our heroes will find relief with current treatments.
Left untreated, PTSD can be debilitating, leading to a decline in quality of life and causing significant medical, mental health, interpersonal, and social impairment. More threatening though, PTSD has a strong link to suicide risk, with the lack of effective treatment now seen as a major contributing factor in the grisly number of Veteran suicides that have soared to roughly 20 per day.
Because we have a moral duty to do everything we can to ease the suffering of Veterans and their families who have risked everything to protect our Freedoms and American way of life, I have created landmark legislation that would provide our hometown heroes with unrestricted access to a promising treatment.
Called stellate ganglion block (SGB) therapy, a procedure that has been used to relieve chronic pain since the 1920s, this rather simple, outpatient procedure has been proven to alleviate common PTSD symptoms such as hyperarousal, exaggerated startle responses, and anxiety. By injecting an anesthetic agent on the stellate ganglion, a collection of nerves in the neck that controls the activation of the “fight or flight” survival reflex, it helps bring relief to regions of the cerebral cortex thought to be abnormally activated in sufferers of PTSD.
Recipients like Sgt. Meyer describe a nearly immediate benefit from this treatment alternative, with improvements reported within minutes to days of the procedure.
“It feels like a million pounds is taken off me,” said Sgt. Meyer. “It’s like if you took in being downtown New York City in rush hour traffic to all of a sudden driving down a quiet country road with nowhere to be.”
Considered a low-risk pain procedure when administered by a trained clinician only a few times a year, SGB was first recognized as a treatment for PTSD in 2008. But as of 2018, only 11 out of America’s 143 VA facilities reported using the procedure to treat PTSD. In addition, a Veteran first have must fail traditional PTSD treatments before they can be considered for an SGB treatment.
Ultimately, my legislation, the Treatment and Relief through Emerging and Accessible Therapy or (TREAT) PTSD Act, would direct the Veterans Affairs secretary to expand access to SGB therapy to all Veterans upon their diagnosis of PTSD by making it a covered treatment under federal law.
While SGB is by no means a PTSD cure-all, it is believed by many to potentially revolutionize the way PTSD is handled. And for many Veterans who have tried it, it is seen as a lifesaving gateway that calms their reactions so they can be more traditional therapies.
“You can’t ever think about fixing stuff when you’re in the heat of the fire,” said Sgt. Meyer. “(SGB) puts the fire out and allows you to really think about what you need to do to keep the fire from coming back.”
By providing our Veterans a path to treatment access, space and breathing room they have thus far been denied, we can provide them a well-earned road to compassion, healing and prosperity. And in a world that could use a little more unity, that’s a road that can bring us all home together.