After a $3 million government grant, more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder victims may soon receive therapy that involves virtual reality programming and other unorthodox methods.
In 2010, Dr. Deborah Beidel and her team started using virtual reality goggles to decouple anxiety from traumatic combat memories. Therapists carefully caution patients that they will probably get worse before they get better if they relive combat experiences. But for many, the multimedia process works well. As a bonus, these individuals open up more about their experiences, so therapists can help even more. Dr. Beibel stresses that only regular use for several hours a day, along with group therapy, makes a significant difference. The virtual reality-based therapy also prevents relapse. Two-thirds of Dr. Beibel’s patients no longer meet the clinical PTSD standard.
She says the DoD money will be a big help. The technology will have a “new level of detail,” and also have applications for mass shooting survivors, military sexual assault victims, and others.
The Evolution of PTSD
Soldiers have experienced combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the Middle Ages. As combat evolved, the problem worsened. In the American Civil War, many soldiers experienced PTSD symptoms, but doctors usually diagnosed their condition as “nostalgia,” or intense homesickness. Unfortunately, most doctors recommend that these soldiers be transferred to a front-line unit in an intense area, which was exactly what caused the “nostalgia” in the first place.
Significantly, American Civil War soldiers wore decorative headgear, like caps, as opposed to protective headgear, like metal helmets. Partially, that is because the Civil War was before the Industrial Revolution. Mass production of things like metal hats was difficult or impossible. That is also partially because such protective headgear was unnecessary. Most cannons used picric acid, which is essentially the same thing that is in fireworks.
Battlefields changed significantly in World War I. In addition to guns loaded with TNT, which was much more explosive, soldiers dealt with poison gas, machine guns, barbed wire, tanks, and other terrifying weapons. PTSD incidents increased commensurately.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was especially a problem for British troops. Professional army troops were trained to put down native rebellions in far-flung corners of the vast British Empire. They were not ready for something like World War I. For the loads of new draftees and recruits, things were even worse. These lads had absolutely no idea what to expect until their first combat experience in the fields of northern France or the equally-terrifying Gallipoli Peninsula in the Balkans.
Despite the uptick in PTSD cases and the widespread nature of the condition, most doctors still believed that PTSD was a processing disorder. This attitude continued until the Vietnam War. Hollywood movies like Rambo and The Deer Hunter, which portrayed combat vets as off-the-rails headcases, did not help matters.
Recent research has shown that PTSD is, in fact, a physical injury. Exposure to combat stress shrinks the cerebral cortex, which controls logical reactions. As a result, the amygdala, which controls emotional responses, becomes too large. This chemical imbalance causes symptoms like:
- Nightmares, and
- Heightened awareness.
Because of this evidence and these conclusions, the Canadian Armed Forces recently replaced the “PTSD” moniker with Operational Stress Injury. OSI victims are eligible for the Service Medal, which is the Canadian equivalent of a Purple Heart.
The physical injury distinction is important for Defense Base Act purposes. The DBA only applies to physical injuries. So, PTSD victims are entitled to the benefits outlined below.
Brain injuries like PTSD are permanent. Dead brain cells in the cerebral cortex never regenerate. Emerging techniques involving stem cells may change this fact one day soon, but that time is probably still several years, or several decades, away.
Some of the traditional brain injury treatments, such as surgery to relieve swelling and stop brain bleeding, do not work for PTSD victims.
Other treatments, such as physical therapy, are effective, but brain injury physical therapy is nothing like broken bone or other kinds of physical therapy. After people break their shoulders, physical therapists must strengthen the muscles and restore range of motion. In other words, they must enhance what is already there. Brain injury therapy is different: Therapists must train uninjured areas of the brain to assume lost functions. Progress often comes in fits and starts.
For that reason, PTSD victims need aggressive attorneys as they recover from their injuries. Penny-pinching DBA insurance companies are anxious to pull the financial plug if the victim’s progress slows. An attorney must make sure that the money is still available so therapy can continue.
Additionally, PTSD treatments often involve cutting-edge methods, like the above-described virtual reality treatments. One would think that additional exposure to combat stress would make the injury worse, but that is why we are not doctors. PTSD is still poorly understood, so doctors must be willing to try new things.
DBA insurance companies routinely challenge cutting-edge treatments, claiming they were not medically necessary. Once again, the victim’s attorney must defend the treatment protocol so the victim can keep improving.
Injured overseas contractors do not just need money for medical bills. They also need money to meet everyday expenses until they can get back to work. DBA compensation includes money for both medical bills and lost wages.
In head injury cases, medical bills often exceed $10,000. This figure does not include the thousands of dollars which physical therapy usually costs. Typically, the DBA insurance company pays all these costs directly.
Sometimes, medical bills accumulate. If that happens, an attorney usually sends a letter of protection to the medical provider. The provider agrees to defer payment until the case is over. Furthermore, the provider also agrees to negotiate fees with the attorney. As a result, most providers lower their fees and victims keep more of their settlement money.
They usually need this money, because everyday bills pile up when there is no money coming in to pay them. Therefore, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of a temporary disability. Generally, benefits are retroactive to the date of injury.
To learn more about the DBA process, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.