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Ken "Doc" Coleman knows first-hand what many veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going through.

A Vietnam veteran diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, Coleman of Hobart, sought medical help for his condition. Doctors prescribed medicine for him.

"I have to take the proper medication to stay in this zone," he said.

That's why he and a group of local veterans are working hard to make sure those returning from service have alternative treatments available for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

There's one treatment in particular the group believes is showing promise for veterans and active serve personnel with PTSD and TBI. The treatment, hyperbaric oxidative treatments, however, has not yet been certified by the Food and Drug Administration or Veterans Administration for either condition.

Instead, they said, like with Coleman, the conditions often are treated with very strong medications.

To them, it is a matter of quality of life for returning service personnel and a matter of cost.

Coleman and Portage veterans Walter White, Tom Pappas and Nick Yacko, are promoting federal legislation initially passed in 2011 and again in 2013 setting aside $10 million per year for five years to study alternative treatments for TBI and PTSD. The catch in the TBI Act, they said, is that while the money is available, each state must adopt legislation to provide a funding mechanism to allow the study, which would bring HBOT therapy to veterans in each state, in their state.

Texas and Oklahoma have already passed legislation and 10 other states have legislation pending.

During the most recent legislative session, the state legislature passed Senate Enrolled Act 180, authored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, which requires the state Department of Health to study and report its findings and recommendations concerning the implementation of a program for the treatment of veterans who have TBI or PTSD.

Pappas and White, who testified to a state committee in February, said Indiana joining other states in the federal study only makes sense, both financially and to provide a better quality of life for returning service personnel.

White said studies he's read say it costs $38,000 per year, per veteran to maintain the status quo of prescription medication. On the other had, a round of HBOT therapy, which includes 40 "dives" or sessions, costs $13,000.

The majority of veterans who have undergone HBOT treatments, White said, have reported a 30 percent or better improvement, with many reporting a 90 percent improvement. The HBOT treatments, which, simplified, is an infusion of pure oxygen, doesn't have any side effects. 

Pappas said there are an estimated 77,000 veterans with TBI or PTSD in the state which costs some $3 billion a year in treatment and lost productivity.

"We need to do it because it is an opportunity to bring money back to Indiana. There are no side effects and it has the potential to turn someone's life around," said Pappas. "The VA is drugging these poor kids and its criminal when there are alternative. The VA is not looking at that."

For the veterans, it is the proverbial "no brainer," they say, having an alternative to treating veterans with PTSD and TBI that is cheaper, more effective and less damaging than present medications.

The men recently got support from the Portage City Council, which unanimously passed a resolution May 6 supporting their efforts and urging the state to provide funding and focus on HBOT therapy for veterans.

Charbanneau said the legislation passed this year is the first step in the process to get the treatments recognized and funded. The study is to report to a legislative council by Sept. 1.

"Out of that would come draft legislation," he said.

For White, Pappas, Yacko and Coleman, who voice frustration with the process to recognize veterans issues in a timely fashion, it can't come soon enough. They want the state's study to be fair and balanced.

"I've been fighting this war for 43 years," said Yacko, who also was diagosed with PTSD, "and we are still fighting it."

Yacko said he's concerned that veterans needs won't be recognized or that, like the time it took to recognize and acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange, it will be too late for too many who need help now.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.