The prevalence of TBIs among veterans is alarming, primarily due to daily exposure to roadside bombs during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. These TBIs range from mild concussions to severe open head wounds, resulting in a range of symptoms including headaches, memory loss, balance issues, and cognitive difficulties. The Department of Defense estimates that of the 2.4 million veterans who served in these wars, at least 250,000 have been diagnosed with TBIs. When factoring in unreported and undiagnosed cases, the numbers could potentially double, as per a 2008 Rand Corp. study.

The Heartbreaking Toll of TBIs

For veterans, TBIs can be life-altering, affecting their quality of life and, in some tragic cases, leading to chronic pain and even suicide. Military suicides, often involving prescription drugs, reached alarming levels, surpassing combat-related deaths in some years. The burden of addressing these TBIs weighs heavily on our society as a whole.

The Potential of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

In Colorado, at the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute (RMHI) in Boulder, injured veterans are experiencing promising results with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT involves the use of 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber to treat various wounds within the body.

How HBOT Works

This non-invasive therapy effectively saturates the bloodstream with significantly more oxygen than what can be obtained by breathing air in a typical room. While the most common side effect is increased ear pressure, the benefits can be life-changing. Oxygen carried in red blood cells plays a crucial role in wound healing. In cases of brain injury, trauma can lead to damaged brain cells becoming dormant or dying due to insufficient oxygen.

HBOT enables red blood cells to transport more healing oxygen to the brain, potentially prompting the growth of new capillaries to supply oxygen-rich blood to damaged tissues. This mechanism offers hope for veterans struggling with the consequences of TBIs.

Ryan Fullmer, the owner and program director of RMHI, is a living testament to the effectiveness of HBOT. He survived a stroke at the age of 8, which left him with walking difficulties and debilitating headaches. At 22, Fullmer underwent HBOT treatment at a Denver clinic and experienced significant improvements within a week. His personal journey convinced him to dedicate his life to this therapy. In 2008, he founded RMHI, which has since treated around 300 patients.

A Veteran’s Journey of Healing

Margaux Mange, a retired Army sergeant, is among the beneficiaries of HBOT at RMHI. After sustaining a severe concussion in Iraq from a roadside bomb blast, she struggled with pain and underwent brain surgery that proved unsuccessful. For eight months, she endured outpatient care and prescription medications. Eventually, she decided to try HBOT.

After 80 sessions, Mange was off her medications entirely. Her success story is an inspiring testament to the potential of HBOT in treating TBIs. In December, she plans to climb a 19,000-foot mountain in Ecuador.

Research Supporting HBOT

Dr. Paul Harch, a former Denverite, has dedicated over two decades to studying HBOT, especially its impact on traumatic brain injuries in veterans. A study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma this year highlighted significant improvements in intelligence, function, and quality of life among veterans who underwent 40 sessions of HBOT at 1.5 atmospheres.

These improvements included an average 15-point increase in IQ, an 87 percent reduction in headaches, and a 93 percent improvement in cognitive difficulties. Notably, HBOT also showed promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

HBOT showed significant improvements on most measures of intelligence, function and quality of life.

Dr. Paul Harch

The Future of HBOT in Treating TBIs

Dr. Harch’s ongoing research aims to strengthen these findings, and he is actively sharing his positive results with top decision-makers in the Department of Defense. Fort Carson military researchers have also conducted their study on the safety and effectiveness of HBOT in treating TBIs, using a randomized, double-blinded controlled trial—the gold standard of research. Results from this study are expected by Christmas.

Fort Carson is currently recruiting active-duty soldiers with chronic TBI symptoms for a second HBOT study to further evaluate the treatment, with results expected in six to nine months. If the military adopts HBOT, it could be offered through TRICARE referrals to civilian hyperbaric facilities.

Dr. Harch emphasizes that HBOT should be understood as a biological treatment that aids wound healing for injuries of any duration and in any part of the body.


The potential of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to offer them healing and hope is a beacon of promise. While further research and regulatory progress are needed, the experiences of veterans like Margaux Mange demonstrate that HBOT could be a vital piece in addressing the widespread issue of traumatic brain injuries among our returning troops. Our society owes it to these brave individuals to explore every avenue that can alleviate their suffering and help them lead fulfilling lives post-service.


The Denver Post. (2012, November 8). Injured veterans, others say oxygen treatments restorative. The Denver Post.