Robert A Petzel, M.D., VA's under secretary for Health in the Veterans Health Administration, speaks to VA&R Commission members during the Legion's 52nd annual Washington Conference. Photo by James V. Carroll

Waiting for better information

While not endorsing any particular treatments, The American Legion’s PTS-TBI Ad Hoc Committee has urged the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to look at alternative methods for treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

One of those possible methods, the use of hyperbaric oxygen treatments, is being investigated by VA. But Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s under secretary for Health in the Veterans Health Administration, cautioned Legionnaires to not rush to judgment on the treatment.

"There are things for which hyperbaric oxygen is well-defined as being, by the evidence, very helpful," Petzel told the Legion during the organization’s 52nd annual Washington Conference in the nation’s capital. "Wound healing is one of those things. The other things – dementia, etc. – really have got to be, in a complete way, investigated. The VA and the DoD are engaged in five studies to look at hyperbaric oxygen – specifically as it relates to PTSD.

"(With) acute traumatic brain injury, there is some evidence hyperbaric oxygen works. There isn’t any good evidence right now for chronic TBI."

Petzel said that within a year and a half, VA and DoD should have some "much better information about whether or not this particular treatment works."

Legionnaires also heard from Janet Kemp, director of VA’s suicide prevention program. Kemp called on Legionnaires to both get involved and help raise awareness of VA’s Veterans Crisis Hotline (800-273-8255).

"Connect with your local suicide prevention coordinator," Kemp said. "They’re certainly willing to do any sort of outreach or community education program that you think would be useful. Work with your local suicide prevention coordinators to support the veterans in your community, especially the ones we know that are at high risk. And spread the word."

Kemp also said that in addition to the hotline and the online chat service (, a text service was launched last November. Veterans can contact the center by texting to 838255. "That may be the method of choice for a lot of our younger veterans to communicate with us," Kemp said.

Matt Stiner, director of development and outreach for Justice for Vets, also called on Legionnaires to assist with his program. Justice for Vets is an organization that seeks to ensure that veterans involved in the criminal justice system have access to Veterans Treatment Courts and the benefits, services and treatment they have earned. There currently are 88 Veterans Treatment Courts across the United States. The courts specialize in working with troubled veterans to get them counseling and link them to government benefits, while helping the veterans avoid jail time, if possible.

"It’s really critical that you support these programs," Stiner said. "I saw firsthand on a local level in Tulsa, Okla. We had The American Legion, Post 1 … actively participate as a service officer and as a mentor for our program. Having that veteran have that contact (with the post) helped out tremendously.

"But also, when you get these veterans to the Veteran Treatment Court, they may have hit rock bottom. For you being in there – in that court with the judge, helping that veteran navigate that process – is huge. It does a tremendous service to the veteran and to the court being a part of that team."