SB 1604, The Oklahoma Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Recovery Act of 2014, authored by Senator Mark Allen and Representative John Bennett, was signed into law yesterday by Governor Mary Fallin. The bill goes into effect November 1, 2014.
The first of its kind in the country, the bill states that any Oklahoma veteran who has been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and prescribed hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) by an authorized medical professional may receive HBOT at any facility in the state that has a hyperbaric chamber.
Hyperbaric chambers offer oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. Studies show the 100 percent oxygen chambers trigger the brain’s neurons and harness the healing power of oxygen.
Subject to the availability of funding, the treatment will be paid for with private dollars at no cost to the veteran.
Army Captain Mark Smotherman was in a vehicle hit by three IEDs in Afghanistan and was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
“That drove me down into kind of a cycle of depression; I was unable to emotionally relate to people. I didn’t really care about a whole lot of things,” he said. “It was miserable. It was really miserable. I hated it. I hated every single moment of it.”
When he hit rock bottom, Smotherman tried hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which he found through Oklahoma State University. “The lights came back on,” he said, remembering his first treatments. “And I could focus again.”
Smothermon says the treatments gave him a pathway back to his old life. “It’s a living tragedy,” he said. “So in a very real way it saved my life and gave me my life back.”
The Oklahoma State University Center for Aerospace and Hyperbaric Medicine (OSUCAHM) will have full statewide jurisdiction over all medical treatments provided and costs allowed to providers who request reimbursement from the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Recovery Revolving Fund. Treatment plans must be approved by OSUCAHM prior to receiving treatment or reimbursement.
SB 1604 creates the revolving, continuing fund in the State Treasury. The fund will consist of all monies received by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the form of donations, appropriations or other monies. Facilities seeking reimbursement for treatment of veterans must request approval for funding from the Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES).
So far, about $3 million in private donations have been pledged, Representative John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) said. “Traumatic brain injuries can leave a terrible scar on an individual. This legislation is about trying to give relief and the ability to live a better life to Oklahoma veterans. The federal government broke them and has a responsibility to fix them. Since they have failed to do that, Senator Allen and I will do it for them.”
Senator Mark Allen (R-Spiro) said this law opens the door to expand research for hyperbaric oxygen treatments for TBI which also leads to PTSD. This will allow OSU to complete their study, in addition to treating veterans and recognizing brain injuries in athletes. “This doesn’t stop at treating veterans. There is evidence of an actual healing process in the brain. We hope this means fewer prescribed and self-medicated regimes and putting our veterans back in the work force. This bill encapsulates hope. Captain Smotherman’s story can become the story of hope to thousands of others.”