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Governor signs law extending hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans

Program has stalled for years despite $1 million
Nichols Colgin serving in the Army
Posted at 3:00 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 19:17:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Governor Eric Holcomb has signed into law an effort to help veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to get hyperbaric oxygen therapy through a state program.

WRTV Investigates uncovered the HBOT program has failed to fully treat any Indiana veterans, this despite a million of your tax dollars allocated for the program three years ago.

The state legislature appropriated $1 million during the fiscal year 2018-19 biennium for the hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans.

But WRTV Investigates has uncovered only $272,000 of the $1 million has actually been spent.

On April 8, Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 91, which extends the program through the year 2025.

It also requires the Indiana State Department of Health to send out a new request for proposal, or “RFP”, to find hospitals and other facilities that are able to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

"I developed an RFP,” said General James Bauerle, who has been leading the effort to keep the program going. “This legislation was declared an emergency, which that means the health department should be acting on this right away."

The law also changes the payment structures for hospitals so they can get paid based on services, rather than outcomes.

Bauerle said previously medical providers had been reluctant to participate because they only got paid if they could prove a patient had improved following the treatment.

With about $700,000 waiting to be spent on veterans, Bauerle is ready to get started.

"If we have 75 veterans treated with this money, I think that would be awesome,” said Bauerle. “It's unfortunate because I think more could have been treated, but with all the delays and overhead costs and the money that's been spent until now we are where we are at."

An estimated 6,000 veterans commit suicide every year in the United States, and many suffer from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.

"We know of no veteran who has committed suicide who has received hyperbaric oxygen therapy."

Indiana veteran Nichols Colgin hopes to get help through the program.

He has a traumatic brain injury and is one of the thousands of Indiana veterans suffering from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.

“I couldn't spell my own name, I couldn't walk without a cane, I could barely speak,” said Colgin. “I had to have years of physical therapy, cognitive therapy."

In 2018, Colgin heard about the state’s new hyperbaric oxygen therapy program and emailed several state senators, but never heard back.

"I just hit a lot of dead ends, and it was just unfortunate,” said Colgin.

Colgin still suffers as a result of his traumatic brain injury.

"My headaches are worse than ever,” said Colgin. “I'm dealing with a lot of issues related to my brain injury even today."

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State leaders say COVID-19 was a big factor in the program not getting off the ground.

Right now, Clark Memorial Hospital in southern Indiana is the only facility in the state doing hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the state program.

Purdue University performs MRI scans and studies the participants.

WRTV Investigates checked with Purdue University and a spokesperson told us they spent a chunk of the money to "facilitate development and testing of the advanced MRI sequences to be used in the study, analysis of images and study data, payment for MRI scans of study participants, and reimbursement to participants for travel expenses."

If you or a veteran you know is interested in the state’s program, you can contact Arthur Terlap at purduehbot@gmail.com.

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