INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana senators are raising concerns following a WRTV investigation into a program meant to help struggling veterans that has failed to fully get off the ground three years later.
The state legislature appropriated $1 million for the 2018-2019 biennium for a hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, WRTV Investigates has uncovered only $272,000 of the $1 million has been spent and only one veteran has been treated.
The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs says COVID-19 halted the program last year.
Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Military expressed concerns about the status of the hyperbaric oxygen therapy program and vowed to find out how the money has been spent.
"I'd like to challenge every member in here anytime we appropriate funds for a program like this and we have an agency spend 27% of those funds, and no one goes through the program, that should give us all pause,” Sen. Chris Garten, R-Scottsburg, said. “I think it's in the best interest of veterans to get to the bottom of this and figure out what the heck is going on. "
The program’s contractors are Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, which does the oxygen treatment, and Purdue University which 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."
COVID-19 put the program on pause, according to Purdue University.
"Many have expressed concern about traveling across the state during COVID-19,” Tim Doty, a spokesperson for Purdue University, said. “Additionally, the Purdue MRI Facility was shut down for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has reopened under strict safety protocols to continue the research."
Sen. Jim Tomes, the committee’s chairman, said he is working on getting more specifics on whether Purdue researchers were paid while the program was halted.
“Even though the program was suspended, they were still paying salaries, and I have questions about that,” Tomes said. “If the money was used in preparing this program, it should be ready to go. I want to see this program launched in this state.”
Senators are now seeking a detailed accounting from both Clark Memorial Hospital and Purdue University of how the money has been spent thus far.
“What did we get for our money?” Tomes said. “I will persist until we get clarification.”
Sen. Erin Houchin urged Tomes to find out what’s been done to find veterans who could benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“I would include anything they’ve spent or activities they’ve engaged in, whether it’s phone calling or emailing to recruit veterans into the program to advertise that it’s being offered,” Houchin said.
The Senate committee passed Senate Bill 91, which will extend the hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans through June of 2025.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
"We are at a place where we now need to treat people," said Indiana Dept of Veteran's Affairs director Dennis Wimer. "What this bill does is extend it out for a timeframe so we can treat people."
WRTV Investigates contacted Purdue University Tuesday seeking more information about how they spent money associated with the program, including staff salaries.