Meg Farris / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- A local doctor was among those asked to be with Michelle Obama today in Richmond, Virginia, as she announced a new program to help the troops coming home from the wars in the Middle East.

Dr. Paul Harch joined the first lady to talk about how medical schools can do research and train new doctors to better care for veterans needs, especially with brain injury.

The White House is recognizing the importance of brain research, such as the research being done here in New Orleans, as beneficial to the health of the men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

'The mental health challenges many of our troops face once they return home,' Michelle Obama said from the podium in Richmond Wednesday afternoon.

For 20 years now, Medical Watch has been following the research of two LSU Health Sciences Center doctors, emergency medicine specialist Dr. Paul Harch, director of the LSUHSC New Orleans Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Care Department, and Dr. Keith Van Meter, the chief of the section of emergency medicine.

They have worked on projects to help patients with brain injury healing through hyperbaric oxygen treatments. They have treated near drowning victims, such as a California man who spent nearly a half hour at the bottom of the Mississippi River and has no brain damage, and many others with strokes, traumatic brain injury, and those with some mental disabilities and brain defects from birth.

A few years ago, the doctors began studies on veterans coming home from the Middle East, those who had post traumatic stress disorder from war and those whose brains were injured from explosions.

They testified in front of the Congressional House Armed Services Committee and reported to the Department of Defense on their oxygen treatment studies for injured soldiers.

Young marine Jake Mathers was in the pilot study when he came home with brain damage from a suicide bomber explosion and PTSD.

'You forget where you put your cell phone. Like 10 times a day you can't find your car keys. You can't really do anything productive without screwing it up a couple of times,' he said before the treatments in February 2009.

After the oxygen treatments (HBOT), his health changed.

'My sleep is better. I'm sleeping longer. I'm not dreaming about mean and angry things constantly. My memory, I don't even have a memory problem anymore. I don't have headaches at all any more,' said Mathers back in 2009 after HBOT treatments.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Neurotrauma. The doctors found that treatment with hyperbaric oxygen nearly three years after injury, significantly improved function and quality of life for veterans with traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, post concussion syndrome and depression.

On Wednesday, as part of the first lady's Joining Forces Initiative, LSU Health Sciences Center doctors, along with other medical schools, are committed to creating a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research labs that will make sure veterans have the best treatment for their specific health needs. That includes post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Tulane University School of Medicine is also one of the 130 medical schools and research facilities part of the Joining Forces Initiative to help veterans and their families.

Click here to read the story from December 2010 on the man saved at the bottom of the Mississippi River

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