By Steve B. Brooks – October 16, 2013

The American Legion’s PTSD and TBI Ad Hoc Committee met multiple times between January 2011 and February 2013, gathering information on the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and then preparing and delivering a report to Congress, the Obama administration, VA officials and American Legion membership.

But what’s next?

That was the topic of discussion during the committee’s meeting Oct. 15 in Indianapolis. The consensus: PTSD and TBI aren’t going to go away, so neither should the committee’s efforts to not only raise awareness of the conditions, but also seek out the best methods of treatment.

To facilitate that goal, the committee is recommending that the Legion host a PTSD-TBI symposium in conjunction with the organization’s annual Washington Conference in the nation’s capital. Tentative dates are March 21-22.

“The whole point now is to develop an answer to the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’” said committee chairman William Detweiler, past national commander of the Legion. “A symposium is a logical next step for this committee.”

The committee is looking at bringing in mental health experts in the private sector, federal government and military for the two days, prompting different discussions on treatment options and other issues close to both conditions.

“There’s so much information out there,” said Past National Commander Ron Conley, a member of the committee. “Trying to get it and digest it all in one day is almost impossible.

“This issue is not going to go away. It will be worse than it is today. We need to find out what research is going on out there, what treatments are available, how these treatments are also affecting the families of those with PTSD and TBI, and we need to talk to families who lost a loved one because of ineffective treatments.”

During the meeting, committee member Dr. Jean Stellman briefed her counterparts on what she called a flawed study conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD) on the impact of hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) on PTSD/TBI. Stellman – a professor emeritus at Columbia University who is famed for her work in identifying the geographical reach and toxic effects of Agent Orange exposure – said that while DoD reported there were positive results in certain groups within the study, it wouldn’t attribute them to the HBOT treatments.

“What this discussion is saying is, ‘Yes, we found … differences, but there might be something else that explains them other than the treatment,’” Stellman said. “To me, that’s not kosher. They used the weakest possible way analyzing it – looking at group changes rather than individual changes. When they find something, they say, ‘Well, we really can explain it by non-specific effects, although we haven’t got a clue what these non-specific effects might be.’”

Stellman recommended – and the rest of the committee concurred – that the Legion should request the data from DoD, get a statistician to go over the data independently and then have it reviewed by some experts.