Aljazeera America - Battle fatigue and shell shock now have a clinical diagnosis—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—and there is a growing focus on developing effective and lasting treatments. From military hospitals, research institutes, universities and the private sector, a wide variety of specialists are coming together to better understand PTSD in an effort to find proven therapies that will help the increasing number of war veterans struggling to deal with this crisis.
PTSD has been closely linked to traumatic brain injury, in which the brain is damaged after being concussed, as in an IED or artillery explosion. At Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital in North Carolina, they are trying to promote rapid healing of damaged brain tissue through a series of treatments called hyperbaric oxygen, in which normal air consisting of 21 percent oxygen is replaced with 100 percent oxygen.
The hyperbaric oxygen chamber at Camp Lejeune's Naval Hospital.
On a different coast and a world away, the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies is a crossroads for Hollywood, the military and video game developers where virtual reality systems are created to assist veterans in coping with their post-traumatic stress. Both hyperbaric oxygen therapy and virtual reality are new applications in early trial stages for treating PTSD. Yet both are delivering promising results.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Warren is one of the PTSD patients testing USC's virtual reality exposure therapy program.
Suicides among veterans are on the rise and the growing awareness that PTSD can be a life threatening and life-long struggle is driving the search for more innovative approaches to help deal with this growing problem. As it stands now, the therapies we shot for the story are only viewed as clinical trials and not yet approved treatments. The researchers we interviewed, however, had significant hope for other potential solutions. One such study is being conducted by the Department of Defense study in Denver where advanced high-resolution imaging scans the brain of those soldiers suffering traumatic brain injury. It has shown particular promise for those involved in the hyperbaric oxygen study.
Corpsman Jacob Lee Daldos is undergoing the hyperbaric oxygen study at Camp Lejeune's Naval Hospital.
The virtual reality team at USC also had an interesting, somewhat different use for their technology. They run soldiers through their extremely realistic virtual combat environments while monitoring them prior to deployment in an attempt to see who might be more or less prone to possibly developing PTSD. Their hope is to use the virtual reality assessment more upfront—so it is needed less upon returning home.