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Perry Bill to Combat Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Bipartisan Support, American Legion, VFW-PA backing opens front in fight to save Veterans

Perry Bill to Combat Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Bipartisan Support, American Legion, VFW-PA backing opens front in fight to save Veterans

WASHINGTOND.C. – Congressman Scott Perry introduced the “Treatment and Relief through Emerging and Accessible Therapy (TREAT PTSD)” Act, today, to take the offensive in the war on Veteran suicide by providing relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Injury (PTSD/I) by expanding access to a lifesaving therapy called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). This bipartisan legislation is co-sponsored by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Greg Murphy (R-NC), Van Taylor (R-TX), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), and Jeff Van Drew (NJ).

Left untreated, PTSD/I takes a severe toll on the physical, mental and economic health of our warriors, and has a proven link to America’s Veteran suicide epidemic with more than 20 suicides a day. An estimated 11-20 percent of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom Veterans are diagnosed with PTSD/I each year, with 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam Veterans suffering from PTSD/I annually. Unfortunately, only 40 percent of Veterans find relief from PTSD/I with current treatments.

Perry authored the bill after meeting with dozens of Veterans and practitioners who had success with SGB, and families who lost their Veterans to suicide and felt wider access to the treatment could have saved them. House Resolution 1656 would require the VA to expand an already-approved VA option for SGB as a frontline treatment for PTSD/I. Currently, the VA requires a Veteran to fail other treatments before being approved for SGB.

 “Our Veterans and their families risk it all to protect our freedoms, so it’s unconscionable for America to repay their sacrifice by requiring they fail first before giving them an option that can save their lives,” said Congressman Perry, a retired Army brigadier general and combat Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with more than 38 years of military service. “One of the best treatments to stop Veteran suicide is SGB, and we have a moral duty as legislators to remove barriers so our brave warriors can stop suffering and dying needlessly.”

SGB therapy is a relatively simple outpatient procedure that’s been used since the 1920s. In 2008, researchers discovered that the treatment, which injects a non-narcotic, anesthetic agent into a collection of nerves in the neck (stellate ganglia), alleviated common PTSD/I symptoms including the desire to commit suicide, hyper-arousal, exaggerated startle responses, and anxiety. It does this by calming the patient’s “fight or flight” response, which often is never turned off in patients suffering PTSD/I. 

“Every time we lose a Veteran from the mental wounds of war, it’s a failure on the part of the nation they served,” said Congressman Zeldin, an Army OIF Veteran. “We must ensure our Service Members have access to every resource available as they transition into civilian life, and cutting-edge options like SGB therapy should be a part of VA-provided, lifesaving treatment. I thank my friend and fellow Veteran, Congressman Perry, for spearheading the effort to codify into law access to this ground-breaking therapy.”

While SGB is not being hailed as a cure-all, published research has found that, by using SGB, physical relief from PTSD/I symptoms enabled patients to better engage in traditional treatments, such as talk therapy and medication - which, when used together, brings long-term relief and healing. Recipients of SGB therapy have characterized the treatment as nothing short of lifesaving.

“As a practicing physician and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I want to ensure Veterans have as many of these treatments at their disposal as possible, and the TREAT PTSD Act would provide another avenue of relief,” said Congressman Murphy. “I thank Congressman Perry for introducing this legislation and I am proud to join in this effort.

Sadly, only 11 out of 170 VA medical centers, 1,255 health care facilities, including 1,074 outpatient sites reported using the VA-accepted SGB procedure to treat PTSD/I - a fact that has America’s Veteran Service Organizations joining the fight to expand access, to include The American Legion and its 2 million members, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Department of Pennsylvania, with more than 72,000 Combat Veterans.

“Making sure Veterans suffering from PTSD/I receive proper care is a top priority for The American Legion and we know that there is no one-size-fits all treatment for this condition,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of Government Affairs, The American Legion. “SGB has shown promising results in reducing PTSD/I symptoms without prolonged use of medications or cognitive therapy, and it should be a frontline option for Veterans. We thank Representative Perry for his leadership on this issue and look forward to working with Congress to get the TREAT PTSD Act passed.”

“When you have Veterans asking for this treatment and they can’t access it, that’s wrong,” said Pennsylvania VFW Commander Ronald J. Peters. “If this can help save the life of one Veteran, then it needs to be more available. We’re in a time where the Veteran suicide rate is disturbingly high, and SGB could be one more tool to help prevent that.”

The bill is assigned to the House Committees on Armed Services, and Veterans' Affairs for further consideration. 

“As a Veteran, I know returning to civilian life after serving in combat overseas can bring many hardships for our military servicemen and women, especially those suffering from PTSD/I,” said Congressman Van Taylor (TX-03). “These brave members of our military have made many sacrifices to protect the freedoms we cherish here at home and we must ensure they have access to the most innovative and effective therapies to treat PTSD/I and other mental health disorders sustained from their service. I’m proud to join with fellow Veteran, Congressman Perry, to introduce this important legislation.”

The sense of urgency to pass this landmark legislation given the epidemic of Veterans committing suicide during the global COVID-19 pandemic could not be greater.

“Our Veterans need us to unite, and they deserve this treatment, now more than ever,” said Perry. “This bill isn’t just good policy and better politics; it’s personal, and I’ll continue doing everything I can to bring legislators together to save our Veterans,” said Perry.

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