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Why should one man control fate of Oklahoma vets?

Photo from the web
Photo from the web

To The Editor:

How highly do we regard Oklahoma veterans? That is the question we would pose after an important bill to address their needs was blocked by one man, the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, who refused to give it a hearing this legislative session.

House Bill 1942 would have created the Oklahoma Veteran Recovery Plan Act of 2013 and provided Oklahomans with hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment for TBI and PTSD when funds became available and treatment approved.

The first of its kind in the country, this bill would have given Oklahoma the ability to start treating veterans without waiting another year to put legislation in place. The bill had no fiscal impact and treatments would only be eligible for payment if they were successful. Insurance company participation would be voluntary. If this bill passed, private donors would have funded the treatment.

This bill would have made it possible to be reimbursed by the federal government for hyperbaric oxygen treatments currently available. We could have fixed lives, put men and women back to work, healed brain injuries, favorably impacted the Oklahoma economy, and honored our veterans all at the same time.

Oklahoma is losing $79 million per year in tax revenue, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, because 25,000 veterans can no longer work and are unemployed. One study says that it might cost $1,250,000 to treat depression and PTSD in one veteran for 50 years. Many of our veterans are currently experiencing long-term medical costs – either from the initial illness or trauma, developing chronic medical conditions, or long-term disabilities. Among these are large numbers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Veterans develop PTSD whether or not they have been physically injured. These veterans have a lower quality of life, more medical problems, and higher rates of suicide and divorce. PTSD is associated with smoking, substance abuse, depression and anxiety, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal, dermatologic and musculoskeletal disorders, chronic fatigue and increased dementia.

Traumatic brain injuries account for roughly 22 percent of casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, and were found in 59 percent of patients exposed to blasts in one study. Like PTSD, mild TBI correlates statistically with increased rates of psychological, physical and functional problems.

But let’s put a human face to these words: our veterans keep coming home. And their marriages fail. And too many of them quietly commit suicide because they face a lifetime of despair without hope of recovery. All they have are hundreds of bottles of medicine that don’t work – and the pain never goes away. And every day feels like an eternity to the shattered shell that is the definition of their lives.

Homelessness, incarceration and substance abuse are common, along with skyrocketing and unnecessary health costs. These are the results of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. These veterans didn’t lose their homes because they are lazy. They’re not refusing to work because they’re weak or bitter or carry a grudge. These are the wounded warriors of our age, and we have a duty to them.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps knows the value of hyperbaric treatments. He sent his most severely injured marines to receive hyperbaric treatment – just to see if it would work. These men were getting ready to be medically discharged but at the last minute, they were sent for hyperbaric oxygen therapy instead.

Every one of these soldiers improved significantly, so much so that many were cleared for active duty and sent back to work. The others, though they, too had improved significantly, chose to go back to their regular lives. The Department of Defense refused to pay for the treatment, so the Commandant used funds from the Semper Fi Funds, a civilian organization that does charity work for Marines.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is FDA-approved and has become a standard Medicare-reimbursable treatment in the United States for fourteen medical conditions, though not for TBI. NFL pro football player George Visger reports that the 49ers Workman’s Comp carrier has paid for 220 + HBOT treatments for football TBI injuries.

House lawmakers passed H.B. 1942 unanimously earlier in the session, but for some, funding a pop culture museum apparently mattered more than fixing Oklahoma’s veterans. It is incomprehensible to us that that the same senator who refused to hear H.B. 1942 in committee is also the author of SB 1132 and 1133, which would have committed about $80 million taxpayer dollars for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa and the American Indian Cultural Center. To us, his priorities are skewed.

These are our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who have sacrificed so much and asked for nothing in return.

Our failure to act on this is unacceptable, inexcusable and the highest form of dishonor and disgrace to those who have ‘borne the battle.’

Rep. John Bennett, Sequoyah
Rep. Eric Proctor, Tulsa
Sen. Mark Allen, Spiro

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