VFW State Commander Ron Peters, center, presents a check to Sandie Walker from Mr. Sandy’s Homeless Veterans Center in York Thursday as homeless veterans chairman David “Spike” Gyger, right, looks on. The late Mr. Sandy, Walker’s father and a Vietnam veteran, started the center, which Walker continues to run today.

The continued struggle to provide treatment to veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) saw another step in the right direction Friday with the introduction of a bill intended to expand the availability of a treatment already well-known in medical circles.

Congressman Scott Perry, R-Pa., introduced H. R. 1656, the “Treatment and Relief through Emerging and Accessible Therapy (TREAT PTSD)” Act.

“I put out a proclamation (Friday). We are going to support this 100%,” said Pennsylvania VFW Commander Ronald J. Peters.

A release from Perry on HR 1656 explains his intent is “to take the offensive in the war on Veteran suicide by providing relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Injury (PTSD/I) by expanding access to a lifesaving therapy called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB).”

House Resolution 1656 would require the VA to expand an already-approved VA option for SGB as a frontline treatment for PTSD/I. Currently, the VA requires a veteran to fail other treatments before being approved for SGB.

SGB therapy is a relatively simple outpatient procedure that’s been used since the 1920s. In 2008, researchers discovered that the treatment, which injects a non-narcotic, anesthetic agent into a collection of nerves in the neck (stellate ganglia), alleviated common PTSD/I symptoms including the desire to commit suicide, hyper-arousal, exaggerated startle responses, and anxiety. It does this by calming the patient’s “fight or flight” response, which often is never turned off in patients suffering PTSD/I.

While SGB is not being hailed as a cure-all, published research has found that, by using SGB, physical relief from PTSD/I symptoms enabled patients to better engage in traditional treatments, such as talk therapy and medication — which, when used together, brings long-term relief and healing. Recipients of SGB therapy have characterized the treatment as nothing short of lifesaving.

Perry authored the bill after meeting with dozens of veterans and practitioners who had success with SGB, and families who lost their Veterans to suicide and felt wider access to the treatment could have saved them.

VFW Commander Peters noted that this step is a positive one when considering the ongoing fight to address veteran suicide.

“We have been battling 22 veterans a day committing suicide. PTSD leads to a lot of that. Even that number, 22, is being questioned. We are wondering if it is not higher than is being reported,” Peters said. “We need to get behind this treatment; it is 85 percent effective. Why can’t we make that available to veterans? The more support we have for this bill, the better off we are going to be.”

Currently, only 11 out of 170 VA medical centers, 1,255 health care facilities, including 1,074 outpatient sites reported using the VA-accepted SGB procedure to treat PTSD/I — a fact that has America’s Veteran Service Organizations joining the fight to expand access. This includes The American Legion and its 2 million members, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Department of Pennsylvania, with more than 72,000 Combat Veterans.

The bill is assigned to the House Committees on Armed Services, and Veterans’ Affairs for further consideration.

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