Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects half a million veterans in the United States. In Oklahoma, 11,590 veterans were treated for PTSD last year in outpatient clinics with the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System and 817 veterans were hospitalized for the illness.
More than 50 brain banks exist in the United States -- allowing researchers to study brain tissue samples from donor's suffering from alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease and even depression. Yet there has never been a brain bank to study PTSD - until now.
Boyd Barclay, an Oklahoma Vietnam War Veteran, knows all too well the pain PTSD causes.
"All of a sudden it comes through your mind just in a flash," he said about his time serving in the Vietnam War.
Specifically, he remembers June 8, 1967, the day he and his crew came under enemy fire.
"First burst got the engine, the second burst came through and got us," he said.
They were shot down while flying a Huey gun ship, trying to give life support for the ground troops.
"My hand was shot off in the air and the other pilot, the last four words he said was, very casually, 'I'm dead, I'm dead,'" he remembers. "My short story is I'm alive for three reasons, god, my Marine Corp training and two young marines that dragged me up the side of a mountain."
He received the Purple Heart -- but the nightmare of that day lived on for years.
"At is core it's a brain problem," said Dr. David Benedek, a consultant for the VA Brain Bank.
Dr. Benedek is an expert on PTSD. We visited him on the campus of the Uniformed Services University just outside of Washington D.C.
"When people are exposed to severe trauma there are changes that occur in their brain," he said.
But with the opening of the national PTSD Brain Bank this year, researchers will investigate the impact of stress, trauma and PTSD on brain tissue in order to advance the scientific knowledge of PTSD, particularly the identification of PTSD biomarkers.
"That trauma may cause changes in the dimensions of certain pieces of the brain that are linked to the control of emotions and also the control of thinking," Dr. Benedek said. "It's a complicated illness, PTSD, and we can learn a lot, we have learned a lot, we still have a lot to learn."
Veterans enrolled in the program, agree to be followed while they are alive and then donate their brain tissue after they die.
"It would be very nice if we were able to A. find medication to prevent PTSD, B. look into the crystal ball and say this person shouldn't go because they are going to get it, we're not there yet," he said.
Until then, veterans with PTSD do receive treatments with medication and psychotherapy. For Barclay, he says going through 40 treatments inside a hyperbaric chamber, breathing pure oxygen, changed his life.
"I sleep six, eight hours now and I don't wake up being apprehensive," Barclay said. "It's been the biggest boost so far."
The national brain bank is seeking veterans with PTSD to participate in research about PTSD that affects veterans. Veterans without PTSD are also eligible to participate in the brain bank because it is important to study veterans without PTSD to compare the impact of stress, trauma and PTSD on brain tissue. Veterans interested in learning more about enrolling in the brain bank are encouraged to call its toll-free number 1-800-762-6609 or visit its website.
Participating sites are located at VA medical centers in Boston, Massachusetts, San Antonio, Texas, West Haven, Connecticut, and White River Junction, Vermont, along with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland (USUHS).