Some private clinics provide the same kind of exposures the Carson study will provide — 100 percent oxygen at 1.5 atmospheres, or the equivalent of 16.5 feet below sea level. But Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute in Boulder, where Margaux Vair went, is the only one in the nation that provides such treatment for veterans through donations, according to the Institute's website.
And after four years in business, it's struggling, says program director Ryan Fullmer: "I don't take a paycheck. I've exhausted my savings, refinanced my condo."
RMHI's website argues that for each service member returned to duty, the military could save $2.6 million in recruitment and training costs. And results, Fullmer says, have been good — vets' headaches have disappeared, they sleep better and have less anger. But Fullmer's still pessimistic the government will step up.
"I've been around chambers for 12 years now," says Fullmer, who's 36. "I really thought 10 years ago, this kind of medicine would be [more] advanced than it is now. I just don't think [government reimbursement] is ever going to happen in my lifetime."
Without it, more soldiers might be compelled to try "mild" HBO clinics, where clients can more cheaply receive 28 percent oxygen at the equivalent of 3 feet below sea level, while inside a canvas cocoon. Former Fort Carson soldier Graham Facer says the mild HBOT treatment he received in Colorado Springs gave him some relief from his brain injury, which he adds the Army has yet to officially diagnose.
He went through roughly 35 mild HBO exposures at Pikes Peak Hyperbaric, a local outfit that operates in the back of a tanning salon. The cost, $50 per hour-long session plus a $25 monthly membership fee, was partially funded through a Save Our Soldiers donor program set up by the business' owner, Ric Rooney.
"Immediately, I noticed my headaches were down. I was sleeping better. My nightmares were minimal," Facer says. "But I noticed if I was going two to three weeks without treatment, it would start to come back." In August, three months after his last exposure in May, Facer was again suffering his old symptoms.
Rooney, who has no medical degree, says his regime is effective in alleviating TBI symptoms permanently after 25 to 35 sessions. He says more than 200 players in the National Football League — whose head-trauma problems are becoming more common, or at least more highly publicized — own their own mild oxygen chambers.
But Lt. Col. Robert Price, who heads the Fort Carson study, says there's no evidence to support that mild HBOT provides results.