By Keenan Willard, WRAL eastern North Carolina reporter

North Carolina is one of the first states in the country to start using a new oxygen treatment to help veterans overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is being called a “lifesaver” for soldiers who are still struggling after making it home.

As the state’s veteran population closes in on 1 million, advocates say far too many of them finish up deployment only to fight a different battle.

“We are currently living with the very sad reality that up to 22 United States veteran suicides are occurring daily,” Melissa Spain, the CEO of Community Foundation of NC East.

‘The reason my life changed’

At his clinic in the Triangle, Ed diGirolamo has been pushing for this moment for years.

“Any opportunity to reduce the suicide rate interested us,” said diGirolamo.

“Hyperbaric oxygen essentially is breathing pure oxygen while under some pressure, some amount of pressure,” diGirolamo said. “We get the soldiers into the chamber, and one of the things that instantly happens is the inflammation is reduced.”

“They sleep through the night,” he continued. “Within maybe ten treatments, anxiety, depression is gone, hope is returning.”

Simon LeMay is a living testament to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A 25-year veteran of the US Marine Corps, the former sergeant major served seven tours overseas. During that time, LeMay said he saw friends die or lose limbs in explosions, and suffered serious injuries himself.

“First one in 2007, where I was in a Humvee in Al-Fallujah, Iraq, that was blown in half,” LeMay said. “Survived that and continued to deploy for several more years.”

Lemay said he started to feel like a shell of himself, hopeless and unable to function due to severe PTSD.

“At one point in 2012, I crawled underneath a bed in our bedroom in Temecula, California, with a nine-millimeter,” he said. “God came through in a very strong moment and put my bride laying underneath that bed beside me, and she was able to talk me out of that situation and stop me from killing myself.”

His family was able to convince him to try the therapy, and LeMay said it changed everything.

After three years of treatments, he’s no longer suicidal, he sleeps through the night and when he wakes up, he feels the same purpose that drove him to put on the uniform in the first place.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the reason that my life changed,” LeMay said. “The reason I’m sitting here today, in a suit, is to tell you that somebody afforded me an opportunity to be able to do this, to get my life back, and it brings me to tears and makes me emotional because there are so many people out there who don’t know this is available.”

Veterans looking to apply for hyperbaric oxygen treatment under the new state plan need to contact the community foundation of NC East on their website,, or by phone at 252-756-8549.

Article Cited by WRAL