Life-changing ‘HBOT’ oxygen treatment denied to Missouri veterans; legislative bill could change that, even save lives

Blake Richardson has long suffered traumatic brain injury from a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq in 2006, and more such damage in a near-drowning during training.

Therapy and drugs could only put a leaky bandage on his insomnia, anxiety, depression, short-term memory loss and mood swings, all of which affected his wife and two small children.

Then came Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) this February in Kansas City.

The veteran Marine sergeant says he’s nothing less than a new man.

“One-hundred percent,” he tells The Heartlander. “I feel normal again. I feel just like – like normal.”

Yet amazingly, the treatment simply isn’t covered by insurance for such cases.

With the Missouri suicide rate among veterans nearly 2.5 times the national average, why wouldn’t the state do everything in its power to help – including HBOT?

Certainly the problem of veteran suicide is important enough that in 2021 Gov. Mike Parson enlisted Missouri in the national Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans and their Families.

Now Richardson and Air Force veteran Dale Lutzen, as well as others, have been in Jefferson City urging Missouri legislators to approve the Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Recovery Act, providing veterans and first-responders access to HBOT – which, paradoxically, is ages old yet revolutionary in its treatment of brain and other soft tissue injuries.


What does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) do?

In Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, “what you’re doing is you’re restoring blood flow and oxygen to those tissues that are deprived,” says David Deister, whose Hyperbaric Healing Institute near KCI Airport has been treating Richardson gratis.

The treatment administers “100% oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure,” Deister’s website explains.

“By providing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, we are able to deliver 10-15 times more oxygen than if delivered at sea level or at normal atmospheric levels. Some of the benefits of HBOT are: Promotes the growth of new blood vessels, decreases swelling and inflammation, deactivates toxins, increases the body’s ability to fight infections, and Improves the rate of healing.

“HBOT should be used to complement conventional therapies and treatments.​”

Fact is, though, Deister says “when you’re dealing with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as your modality, at least for brain injuries, at least initially, I would make it your primary [treatment] because you’re treating the cause of the issues; you’re treating the brain injury; you’re helping to restore blood flow and get that brain to function as best it can – versus when you’re dealing with a lot of the physical therapy, you’re working with the symptoms of the brain injury.”

Richardson “100%” credits HBOT with healing his brain in ways other treatments never could.

After just the second HBOT treatment, he says, “I was actually able to go to sleep and stay asleep throughout the night – without any melatonin or any other medication to help me sleep. Henceforward I have not touched any of my medicines and medications.

“What a difference. Oh my God, it’s flipped my life around.”

And yet, inexplicably the treatment is covered by the government and most insurers only in select situations – which don’t include traumatic brain injuries such as those suffered by veterans of combat.

“Treating traumatic brain injury concussions with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not on the FDA approval list, so it’s considered off-shelf,” Lutzen says.

“Clinics like us, a lot of them will focus on the things that the hospitals don’t treat,” Deister adds. “What we focus on is really all the things insurance does not reimburse. What we treat a lot of is neurological conditions; probably about 70% of our patient population is going to be stroke, traumatic brain injury, MS, autism, cerebral palsy.”

Deister says the earlier the treatment is, the more effective it can be.


How the Missouri Legislature may help

A bill in the Missouri House championed by Rep. Chris Brown, R-Clay County, would change that, and provide explicit covered access to HBOT for servicemen and women and first responders. Brown tells The Heartlander he hopes to attach it to a Senate veterans omnibus bill in the next few weeks.

“The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Bill will establish a fund that will provide veterans access to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at no cost to the veteran,” Brown writes The Heartlander. “HBOT has shown to improve individuals suffering from TBI and PTSD, and a myriad of other ailments in particular where there has been hypoxia [oxygen deficiency].

“HBOT is a way to assist in the recovery of our veterans in an organic way by healing the brain. Unfortunately, so many veterans are simply being treated by drugs and opioids, which not only does not treat the underlying conditions but leads to, in many cases, a whole new set of problems.

“The more I learn about HBOT the more hopeful I am that it can have positive healing and benefits for our veterans.”

As Lutzen and Richardson note, HBOT is neither addictive nor does it come with myriad side-effects or toxicity. Instead, it can have seemingly miraculous effects.

Just ask Deister.


How HBOT can help

When he and his wife Lisa had a three-month-premature baby girl with cerebral palsy some 25 years ago, they spent a year researching what more they could offer her than physical therapy and such for near-paralyzing stiffness in her lower body. They learned about HBOT, then traveled the country for several years getting her treatment.

After just the second session, he says, their daughter saw an 80% improvement. Deister says they’d seen similar leaps in improvement in others they met in their HBOT journey. They decided to get certified and bring the same treatment to others in Kansas City.

Today, their daughter is an honors college graduate with limited disability.

Lutzen, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, doesn’t need such treatments – but is working hard to get them for his fellow veterans and active duty servicemen and women. Indeed, he helped hook up Richardson to Deister and his life-changing HBOT treatment.

Richardson, who says he couldn’t have afforded the treatments without Deister’s generosity, apologizes unnecessarily for talking so excitedly about their effects. “Something that changes your life, you want to shout it to the world.”

To Missouri legislators, he simply says:

“You need to truly listen to these veterans, especially those that have gone through some of the similar issues that I’ve had. And understand that what’s out there is not working. This needs to be passed. It needs to be pushed through. Because I’ve talked to other veterans that have gone through it, and it’s totally changed their lives, flipped their lives around – and even saved some of them.”

Which is what the governor’s challenge is all about.


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