Combat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury could benefit from some non-traditional treatment that could be approved under legislation now pending in Congress.

But all vets need to be alert because the Senate is poised to undermine a very important PTSD/TBI treatment expansion initiative that has already been approved by the House of Representatives.   

Congressmen Mike Thompson of California and Pete Sessions of Texas added language to the National Defense Authorization Act (HR4310) that would create a new five-year, $10 million pilot program to ensure that alternative therapy treatments are available for active-duty soldiers and veterans.

Called the “PTSD/TBI treatment expansion initiative,” the pilot program would encourage vets to seek treatment from private providers outside the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.

If a patient can prove a demonstrable improvement, the pilot program would pay for the treatment.

Furthermore, the program would be required to report its progress annually to Congress. And the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs would also be required to report how they planned to incorporate successful alternative treatment methods into their own medical facilities, thus encouraging a constant flow of innovative and effective treatments.      

All too often, government treatment for vets has been limited to pharmaceuticals and group therapy. This bill could open the door to therapies like eye movement desensitization and reprogramming, emotional freedoms techniques, and the Alpha-Stim device, which have not been available to many vets through government programs.

“Our troops and veterans have earned the very best treatment and care that we can provide,” says Thompson, co-chair of the bipartisan Military Veterans Caucus. “But sometimes the best treatments aren’t available at military and veterans medical facilities. My amendment will make sure that our heroes who return from combat with TBI and PTSD have access to the highest quality care that our nation has to offer.”

The treatment expansion initiative was part of the National Defense Authorization Act which passed the House last May 12. It was then sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which passed it out June 4.

But the Senate version is much different -- and substantially worse.

In the Senate version of the bill, the Secretary of Defense would be required to devise a plan to streamline programs “that address psychological health and traumatic brain injury among members of the Armed Forces.”  It would require him to fill any gaps in service and eliminate any redundancies, but there’s no mention of alternative treatments.

The secretary would also be authorized – but not required – to carry out a research program with community partners to “engage in research on the causes, development, and innovative treatment of mental health and substance use disorders and traumatic brain injury in members of the National Guard and Reserves, their family members, and their caregivers.” But there’s no funding attached to the so-called research program.

Finally, the Senate bill only deals with active-duty soldiers, not with vets being treated by the VA.

As of last year, 1.3 million of the 2 million-plus soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 had left military service and were eligible for VA health care. About 700,000 of them (53 percent) have sought health care from the VA.

According to the VA's statistics, 367,749 Iraqi and Afghan vets have sought mental health care treatment. That's 51.7 percent of the total caseload—and also 28.2 percent of the returning 1.3 million vets—a number that's sure to grow larger as those who returned home recently begin acknowledging cases of delayed PTSD. It's common for vets not to begin experiencing combat until after the euphoria of being home has waned, typically six months to a year or more.

For years, vets have complained that the treatment options offered in military and VA clinics have been inadequate, that they should be able to explore alternative therapies being offered by primary care providers. Under the House bill, that would have been possible.

So this is a time for all vets to write their senators and tell them that they should adopt the Thompson-Sessions language in their version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

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