Founded in 2019, Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions (VETS, Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides resources, research, and advocacy to improve the quality of life for U.S. combat veterans and their families. VETS intends to change the landscape of veteran healthcare and end the veteran suicide epidemic by finding meaningful alternative solutions for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS).
VETS provides Resources, Research, and Advocacy to improve quality of life for veterans and their families. VETS provides grants, coaching, and resources for veterans to receive psychedelic-assisted therapy treatment in countries where it is legal, but still unregulated.
Despite inherent resiliencies and specialized training, SOF personnel are often exposed to more rigorous training cycles, as well as a greater number of deployments, blast exposures, and intense combat which are associated with increased prevalence of PTSD and TBI. Although SOF veterans exhibit PTSD symptoms at rates comparable to conventional forces veterans, they may be more reluctant to seek mental health treatment. There is growing concern of a mental health crisis and an alarming increase in the incidence of suicides in SOF members highlighting limited effective treatment methods for this unique population.
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Your gift helps VETS provide funding for Special Operations veterans to receive coaching and access to psychedelic therapy for PTSD and TBI, and helps VETS provide educational resources for the military community about the risks and benefits of psychedelic therapy.
Ibogaine is a potent psychoactive drug that is extracted from the Tabernanthe iboga shrub, native to West Africa. In its whole plant form, iboga has been used for centuries for initiatory rituals by indigenous groups. Ibogaine, the extracted chemical, was used in France for over 30 years as an antidepressant, and as a stimulant until the mid-1960s. Since the 1960s, ibogaine has been used by Western doctors primarily as a treatment for addiction, especially opioid addiction. Preliminary research has shown that ibogaine treatment is associated with reduced addiction severity, reduction in the withdrawal syndrome associated with opioid use, and reducing the compulsive desire to consume a wide variety of drugs.
Ibogaine therapy is reported to help reduce the intensity of a spectrum of mood and anxiety symptoms, and is associated with self-reported improvements in cognitive functioning in individuals with substance use disorders. During treatment, ibogaine allows the evocation and reprocessing of traumatic memories and occasions therapeutic and meaningful visions of spiritual and autobiographical instances which are of central relevance in addressing PTS-related psychological content. The benefits of ibogaine may be associated with its effects on serotonin and dopamine transporters, sigma, N-methyl-d-aspartate, nicotinic acetylcholine, and opioid receptors, and the production of glial-derived neurotrophic factors and brain-derived neurotrophic factor which are identified sites of interest in the treatment of cognitive impairment in neuropsychiatric disorders.
Prior to the formation of VETS, Marcus and Amber led a grassroots effort that raised funding to help over 150 Special Operations veterans receive ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT treatment outside the United States. Quantitative interviews of over 50 of those veterans showed large and significant reductions in suicidal ideation and cognitive impairment, and in symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The results were published in June 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal Chronic Stress.
Ibogaine therapy is legal in some countries outside the U.S., though mostly unregulated.
The primary adverse effects of ibogaine include cardiovascular effects, ataxia, nausea, and vomiting, and psychological effects such as auditory and visual hallucinations, re-experiencing traumatic memories, acute fear, distress, or guilt). Ibogaine therapy should always be administered under careful medical supervision. VETS works closely with grant recipients to determine if psychedelic therapy is right for them.
Ibogaine treatment is reported to help relieve a variety of mood and anxiety symptoms, and has been associated with self-reported improvements in cognitive functioning and quality of life in people suffering from addiction. During treatment, ibogaine therapy allows patients to recall and reprocess traumatic memories and may contribute to personally meaningful and therapeutic insights, often with spiritual and autobiographical content. These effects may make ibogaine an effective adjunct to therapy for addressing PTSD-related psychological content.
Preliminary research has indicated that ibogaine could play a role in enhancing neuroplasticity and contribute to neuronal growth. There is evidence that ibogaine can be used as a neuroprotective agent to help reduce or prevent brain damage from blasts and explosions as well. Ibogaine increases the amount of Glial Cell Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF), Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in parts of the dopaminergic system of the brain. Release of GDNF promotes the survival and differentiation of different dopamine neurons and has been associated with the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine. BDNF supports the survival of cells and promotes growth and differentiation of new neurons, and dysregulation of NGF has been related to neurodegenerative diseases. The increase of these neurotrophic factors by ibogaine have the potential to heal brain injury at theneuronal level.
To gather more evidence about ibogaine as a potential PTSD and TBI treatment option, VETS is supporting Stanford University researcher Dr. Nolan Williams’ upcoming observational and brain imaging study of the safety of ibogaine-assisted therapy in veterans with head trauma, combat, or blast exposure. In addition to psychological and cognitive testing of 30 veterans receiving ibogaine treatment in countries where the treatment is available, study participants will also receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to explore possible brain changes associated with its use.
Psychedelics are a broad class of chemicals known for their psychoactive effects that alter normal consciousness. The word “psychedelic” means “mind-manifesting”—when used carefully in the right settings, such as in combination with therapy, they can bring unconscious thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations to the surface. Psychedelics are also increasingly being explored for their ability to increase neural plasticity, enhance neural regrowth, and change mental patterns. Psychedelic compounds vary widely in their pharmacology and psychological effects.
Psychedelic therapy, or psychedelic-assisted therapy, uses psychedelic compounds to enhance the effectiveness of therapy for a variety of mental health and neurological conditions. With research accelerating into their legal uses, psychedelic therapy is on track to be the next major breakthrough in mental health care.
Psychedelic drugs have potential as powerful treatment approaches for veterans and many others. Psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) are the most widely researched psychedelic-assisted therapies. These substances have shown strong preliminary efficacy when combined with therapy for treating numerous psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases, treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and PTSD in veterans, sexual assault survivors, and others.
Although most of these treatments are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (with the exception of esketamine for depression), the ability of these substances to enhance therapy is thought to be due to their neurochemical effects on the serotonin system, to their stimulation of neural growth and neurological changes, as well as through psychological mechanisms such as by helping with the reprocessing of traumatic memories, and by encouraging emotional breakthroughs, spiritual-type experiences, gaining personal insights, increasing psychological flexibility, and adaptive personality changes.
VETS is committed to ensuring maximum potential for success in assisting veterans seeking transformative, foundational well-being solutions. Proper preparation and dedicated integration are key to setting intentions which create meaningful changes after treatment. Grant recipients receive five one-on-one sessions with a highly trained preparation and integration specialist. Other coaching provided includes Couples Support, Mindfulness Coaching, and Executive Leadership Coaching. VETS also provides weekly group coaching for grant recipients and their spouses.
VETS believes that psychedelic therapy provides an optimal opportunity for true psycho-spiritual and physiological healing for Special Forces veterans. This critical first step provides the springboard to success in reclaiming one’s life by making additional layers of healing possible. In addition to ibogaine therapy, VETS also supports treatment and research using other psychedelic therapies, including ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, 5Meo-DMT, and ayahuasca.
PTSD & TBI
PTSD is a serious, long-lasting, and life-threatening condition when not adequately treated, highlighting the need for expedited approval of new therapies. PTSD sufferers may relive their traumatic experiences through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached from daily life. Approximately 8% of the U.S. population, and 11-17% of U.S. military veterans, will have PTSD sometime in their life. PTSD also significantly increases risk of suicide.
PTSD is a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing or witnessing a highly stressing event (such as wartime combat, physical violence, or a natural disaster) that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event. Symptoms of PTSD include emotional numbing, uncontrollable anger, nightmares, and flashbacks, and people with PTSD frequently also experience chronic depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Psychologists and medical practitioners use “post-traumatic stress (PTS)” to refer to a common adaptive response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. Symptoms of PTS are similar to those associated with “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”, though the symptoms of PTSD last much longer, and don’t usually go away without treatment. Some individuals who experience recurring PTS symptoms prefer not to use the term “PTSD,” since the word “disorder” can carry social stigma and make them less likely to seek help. Most people with PTS do not develop PTSD. You can develop PTSD without first having PTS. PTS symptoms are common after deployment and may improve or resolve within a month. PTSD symptoms are more severe, persistent, can interfere with daily functioning, and can last for more than a month. PTS requires no medical intervention, unless symptoms are severe. However, you may benefit from psychological healthcare support to prevent symptoms from worsening.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury or physiological disruption of brain function resulting from an external force, typically indicated by new or worsening changes in mental status such as confusion, disorientation, or slower thinking; and loss of memory. Over the last ten years, over 413, 858 service members, or about 8.4% of all personnel, have been diagnosed with TBI according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 4.2% of service members have been diagnosed with TBI.
Considered the “signature wound of the war” TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe with a wide range of symptoms, and may or may not include loss of consciousness at the time of the event. Even mild TBI (mTBI) and blast TBI (bTBI) caused by proximity to blast waves (such as improvised explosive devices, breaching, or explosive ordnance) may cause chronic symptoms such as personality changes, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep disorders, headaches, dizziness, decreased cognition, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
Although severe TBI may be diagnosed through computed tomography (CT) scans and collecting information about the loss of consciousness, memory, and responsiveness after the event, the invisibility of mTBI and bTBI makes diagnosis costly and difficult. Though more research is being conducted, mTBI has no current definitive test for diagnosis; and while bTBI is known to cause Interface Astroglial Scarring (IAS) of the brain, detection is only currently available postmortem. TBI and PTSD additionally share many overlapping symptoms such as fatigue, memory and attention difficulty, irritability, anxiety, and depression; as such TBI often goes undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or untreated. TBI also has additional symptoms, including personality changes, impulsivity, insomnia, aggression, impaired executive functioning, headaches, and changes in motor skills. Leaving symptoms, even mild ones, untreated may cause or amplify other issues such as addiction, family dysfunction and attempts at suicide”.
Currently available treatments for PTSD have limited effectiveness in addressing the unique and complex range of psychiatric symptoms in Special Operations Forces personnel and veterans. Currently approved psychotherapies aim to address troubling memories (such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), but for many veterans, these treatments do not work or don’t completely ameliorate their symptoms. Daily medications (such as SSRIs, SNRIs, other antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and psychostimulants) are prescribed to reduce persistent hyperarousal and fluctuating moods or lessen cognitive deficits. Unfortunately, these medications have limited efficacy for many individuals with PTSD, have unwanted side effects, require long-term use, and are no longer considered the front-line treatment.
Current treatments for TBI include rehabilitative services that help veterans with job skills, problem solving and memory issues. Additional treatments include currently available psychotherapies, and daily medications. Lithium and protein are also being investigated for their effectiveness, according to the VA. However, these current treatments apply to the most severe cases of TBI and may not be appropriate for veterans with mTBI or bTBI. The lack of research and misdiagnosis of these distinct types of TBI mean that veterans are often treated with standard treatments for PTSD, anxiety, and depression that can sometimes lead to exacerbated or worsening symptoms or no symptom relief at all. At this time, the nuances of TBI need to be further understood so that veterans may receive appropriate and specialized care.
Combat veterans with PTSD frequently demonstrate a complex spectrum of co-morbid psychological and neuropsychiatric symptoms. One of the signature injuries of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is traumatic brain injury (TBI)—largely attributed to exposure to improvised explosive devices and increased survival from life-threatening injuries. Veterans who have sustained a TBI are more likely to have comorbid psychological and neuropsychiatric issues including PTSD, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and suicidal behaviors.
“At first, his only diagnosis was PTSD, but that never really resonated with me. Trauma definitely existed, but he was not hypervigilant and wasn’t checking the doors multiple times or petrified of fireworks. It was more like he forgot to check the locks and was too depressed to go watch fireworks, so it felt different. I didn’t ever buy into the PTSD-only diagnosis. Then one of his former team mates died by suicide and the brain autopsy showed blast scarring. Immediately I became very worried because all the symptoms fit. This was more than PTSD.”
-VETS Co-Founder and Executive Director Amber Capone