INDIANAPOLIS — A new effort is underway to save a troubled statewide program aimed at helping struggling veterans.
In 2017, the state set aside $1 million a pilot study to treat veterans with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But six years later, some veterans say the program has not helped enough people even though $725,000 has been spent.
Matt Kohn, a Fishers veteran, served as a medic in the Indiana National Guard for five years.
Kohn struggles with horrible nightmares and with feeling safe.
“I feel like I can't let my guard down,” said Kohn. “With PTSD I have a lot of ruminating thoughts about events, moments, and talking to people.”
Kohn received treated for PTSD at the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic in Carmel.
“It stimulates your bone marrow to make more stem cells and those are the building blocks of repair for your body,” said Kathleen Clark, owner and manager of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT is when a patient goes into a pressurized chamber and breathes 100-percent oxygen.
The FDA has cleared HBOT for more than a dozen conditions including wounds and decompression sickness, however the FDA has not approved the treatment for TBIs and PTSD.
Insurance typically won’t cover HBOT for traumatic brain injuries and PTSD, which can cost hundreds of dollars a session or more.
But as part of a state funded program through the Indiana Departments of Health and Veterans Affairs, Indiana veterans can get treated for free.
They can go to participating hospitals and the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic in Carmel.
"We've had really good results,” said Kathleen Clark, owner and manager of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic. "It's such a great treatment for brain injuries. We've seen everything from a decrease in suicidality, decrease in anxiety, better sleep."
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).
Supporters of the legislation say the plan was to treat more than 100 veterans.
However, more than five years later, WRTV Investigates has learned only 12 veterans statewide actually completed the treatment.
Veteran Matt Kohn is one of them—he completed all 40 sessions.
"I feel like the symptoms of PTSD became more manageable and with no side effects for me,” said Kohn. “I noticed right away I was more relaxed, I got more sleep. I got to sleep sooner and stayed asleep longer.”
An additional 16 veterans across the state received some treatment and dropped out of the program.
One reason—it’s tied to a research study at Purdue University where they perform MRI scans on the veterans.
Also, when the HBOT program originally started, Clark Memorial Hospital near Louisville Kentucky was the only hospital providing the therapy to Indiana veterans.
"We only had a handful of people that were able to go to Clark Memorial,” said Art Terlep, a graduate student at Purdue University.
Terlep was a coordinator for the HBOT program from 2019 to 2022 and says some hospitals mistakenly billed veterans.
"Some veterans did unwittingly ended up having their insurance billed repeatedly and I had some people that were billed personally,” said Terlep. “It took several months if not a year for it to get cleared up."
Brigadier General James Bauerle of the Military Veterans Coalition was the impetus behind the HBOT program back in 2017.
“It’s been a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Bauerle.
Of the $1 million allocated for the program, $725,000 has been spent, but Bauerle said a lot more veterans should have been helped.
“We could have probably had 40 or 50 veterans get treated, paid for, and get data on 40-50 veterans,” said Bauerle. “Purdue University deserve some blame. They spent a tremendous amount of the money. I don't know how much but a lot."
WRTV Investigates checked with Purdue University, and a spokesperson told us they’ve spent $473,798 on “senior research personnel, graduate students, MRI time, study coordination costs, assessment tool design and other project related costs.”
The state spent $250,732 on HBOT treatment for veterans at hospitals and clinics.
That means about $275,000 is still left to spend.
“The remaining funding could cover the cost of approximately 20 veterans receiving full treatment, totaling 800 dives,” according to an email from the Indiana Department of Health.
General Bauerle and the Military Veterans Coalition want the state to help more struggling veterans.
“The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs got a million dollars for suicide prevention,” said Bauerle.
Bauerle plans to ask the state to use some of that money to fund HBOT for veterans without a study component.
“Just the treatment,” said Bauerle.
Veteran Matt Kohn would love to continue HBOT sessions but he can’t afford it.
He hopes the state expands the program so he can continue getting the treatment.
“Obviously the sessions are cost prohibitive if it's coming out of your own pocket,” said Kohn. “That's why this funding is so important."
Purdue released this 25-page preliminary report saying the therapy had a “positive effect” on participants. You can read that report at the bottom of this article.
Purdue University, the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs declined to provide someone for an on camera interview.
“The Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs have worked closely together on the HBOT pilot study since the original legislation passed in 2017. The program was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic working with the legislature to improve the program structure. The pilot study is ongoing through Purdue University. Purdue shared a preliminary report with the state in January 2023.
Since the onset of the study, 28 veterans have received treatment totaling approximately 770 dives. Of the 28, 12 completed treatment. The other 16 individuals voluntarily dropped out of the program before completing treatment for a variety of reasons.”
Purdue University Statement:
“As you know, this project was significantly impacted by COVID-19. During the course of the study, several of the principal investigators on the program left Purdue, putting a temporary pause on the work. The university is now working to identify a new lead investigator, additional program support personnel and proposed timeline to bring the project to completion and serve those who served our country.
Purdue will soon propose to the IDOH a revised project plan that will include a new lead investigator, additional program support personnel and proposed timeline to reengage and conclude the project. This project plan will include how the remaining $38,147.51 will be utilized to complete the study. In addition, any additional Purdue resources needed to complete the Purdue components of the study will be identified and secured to ensure the project objectives are achieved without additional costs to the IDOH.”
Risks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (according to FDA)
- Ear and sinus pain
- Middle ear injuries, including tympanic membrane rupture
- Temporary vision changes
- Lung collapse (rare)