A Florida House committee unanimously advanced a first-of-its-kind bill Monday to allow alternative treatments for veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).
Treatments to be considered include music, art, horses, dogs, acupuncture, yoga and more.
HB 55, sponsored by both Rep. Daniel Burgess and Rep. Frank White, looks to expand beyond the scope of simply prescribing drugs to vets suffering from the serious diagnoses of TBI and PTSD.
The legislation would authorize the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with certain licensed individuals and businesses offering such service options, as long as they are recognized medically, scientifically or psychologically to have the benefits they claim, and are evidenced-based in nature.
“This bill is important because the military is very good at teaching service members at putting the uniform on, but not so good at teaching us to take it off,” said Burgess, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves who presented the bill to the House Health Innovation Subcommittee Monday. “It isn’t always easy to adjust back into society. I’ve heard stories of soldiers who had to kill someone, then a few days later go on service leave back here in the States. Now imagine that perspective.”
Burgess cited several startling statistics in justification of the bill, chiefly that an average of 25 service members per day commit suicide.
Veterans diagnosed with TBI and PTSD are often prescribed a plethora of medication, sometimes contributing — it has been argued — to depression among veterans and active servicemen and women, leading to higher suicide rates in recent years.
On hand to speak to the committee was Ryan Anderson, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran, accompanied by his dog, “Hero.”
He told the committee about a story when his best friend was killed on one of his many deployments to Afghanistan, on Sept. 29, 2010.
“For a long time, I felt like he was always walking right next to me,” Anderson said emotionally. “But this bill is the first of its kind in the United States.”
Anderson went through hyperbolic oxygen therapy, in addition to a few other things before finding Hero, his animal companion.
He backed up Burgess’s statistic on military suicide rates with another more specific to Florida, saying 25 percent of all suicides across the state are made up of active-duty service members or veterans, although they only make up eight percent of the population.
In imploring the committee to vote for the bill and how he had discovered help, he said, “Alternative treatments are saving warriors lives.”