MILITARY MATTERS: Doctors Developing New Therapies for War Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 10:52 PM EDT
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SAN ANTONIO, Tx. (WTVM) - Traumatic brain injury or TBI has been more frequently diagnosed in military veterans serving in post 9-11 conflicts. Now, doctors are finding new ways to help vets with those debilitating headaches.

Nearly half a million American servicemen and woman suffered PTSD after the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. Memory loss and headaches still plague Army veteran SPC (Ret) Michael Gatter, 18 years after his 3 traumatic brain injuries during deployment in Iraq.

“Somebody had taken an explosive satchel and threw it on top of the vehicle, and it detonated,” Gatter described.

After that, his military vehicle swerved to avoid a runaway truck, rolled over, suspending him in mid-air.

He said, next “I unbuckled my harness and when I unbuckled, it came head-first down on the driver’s hatch.”

Finally, a tank hatch knocked Gatter in the head. Those three incidents triggered 20 years of debilitating headaches and memory loss. That is until he participated in a groundbreaking cognitive behavioral study conducted by UT Health San Antonio.

It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy for headache, or CBTH. Researchers modified psychotherapy treatment traditionally used for migraine sufferers.

“Not only did we see better headache outcomes from this headache treatment, which was sort of expected, we showed PTSD improvements that were comparable to a gold standard PTSD treatment,” Dr. Don McGeary said.

During therapy, trained clinical psychologists taught vets to prevent their headache triggers, manage stress, and re-engage in daily activities.

“It really helps them cope better,” Dr. McGeary added.

“My mission is helping my veteran community. What I like to do is everything I learn, I pass on,” SPC (Ret) Gatter said.

Dr. McGeary and his colleagues developed this therapy by modifying a previous migraine study and hope to do this again in a larger trial at multiple military and VA sites around the U.S.