The horrors of war can change a person forever. For more than a century it’s been general knowledge that many people have trouble dealing with the stresses that stayed with them after their service to our country ended; what was known as “shell shock” during World War I now has the more clinical name of post-traumatic stress disorder.
For many the stress is too great to bear; according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 6,000 veterans have committed suicide every year since 2008. Muchpublicized data noted that for several years the average rate of veteran suicides was around 22 per day, or nearly one per hour. By 2017 the rate had fallen, but it’s still around 17 per day.
The VA estimates that as many as 20 percent of U.S. veterans suffer from PTSD, and the diagnosis among active-duty military personnel is increasing.
Moreover, the problem isn’t unique to veterans. PTSD increasingly is being diagnosed in the general population, prompted by traumatic events such as physical or emotional abuse, witnessing a mass shooting or surviving a major accident. As can be expected, suicide accompanies PTSD among all Americans; 45,390 total suicides were reported in 2017, an average of 124 per day.
So anything that holds the promise of reducing the effects of PTSD, especially suicidal thoughts, could save hundreds, even thousands of lives every year, and the testing that could lead to its approval and generalized use should be expedited. More importantly, if it is approved, insurance companies should commit to covering the treatment.
Such a treatment appears to exist.
Researchers have identified a cluster of nerves that appear to be related to chronic pain such as angina, and also emotional trauma. Called the stellate ganglion, the nerve group also appears related to human fightor- flight emotions.
Deadening the stellate ganglion was found to relieve many PTSD symptoms including depression, anxiety and insomnia in limited testing among patients at some military medical centers.
The nerves appear on the front side of the spine, at the last vertebrae of the neck. An anesthetic is injected to deaden the nerves.
Some side effects to the stellate ganglion block, as the treatment is called, have been reported, such as redness and droopiness in the eyes, flushed face and a hoarse voice, but they are temporary. Also, the benefits might not be immediate, but once they take effect they can last for several months.
The cost of each injection has been placed at around $2,000$3,000, but since only a few treatments are needed each year, the cost is much less than more constant therapies. In addition, patients have been able to return to work sooner and miss fewer days, potentially increasing the economic benefits even more.
At first review, the SGB could ease the pain for thousands of veterans and others suffering from PTSD and other emotional pain, and thus could literally save lives that now are lost to suicide.
With so many lives at stake, we implore researchers to expand tests and federal officials to expedite the review process so that this potentially life-saving treatment, if accepted, can be placed into general use as quickly as possible.