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Story mentioned on air… Vets using tech to recover from stress disorders

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On Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris today, we were chatting about DOD pondering a requirement to have everybody returning from war zones undergo an assessment about whether they are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there’s a reluctance to acknowledge psychological problems for fear of showing weakness. Troops now fill out questionnaires after combat tours that help determine if they have suffered psychological damage. They’re examined by medical professionals for physical injuries, but not by mental health experts.

It’s a great idea.

Combat trauma theater [Government Health IT, February 19, 2007]
Virtual reality technologies are helping combat veterans overcome the mental wounds of war

The scene from the front of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) offers a postcard view of palm trees swaying in the breeze, rain-greened hills and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean, marked by the wake of a Navy cruiser leaving Pearl Harbor.

In a nondescript VAMC conference room on the fifth floor at the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui, the visions of paradise fade to the reality of combat. After donning a head-mounted virtual reality display, you’re bouncing behind the steering wheel of a Humvee making its way down what looks like a street in Iraq.

At first, the drive seems routine. A woman clad in black crosses the road while a civilian SUV turns in front of the Humvee. The only sounds are engine noises. Dr. Sarah Miyahira, co-director of the Virtual Reality Behavioral Health Program and Laboratory at the center, then asks a technician to turn up the intensity.

The SUV suddenly swerves in front of the Humvee, and the vehicle’s occupants start firing machine guns. A rocket-propelled grenade comes within inches of the Humvee’s windshield. The rat-a-tat-tat of combat fills the room. Then the technician turns off the action, and the room returns to silence.

Miyahira, a VA psychologist, wants to use this immersive experience to help treat Iraq war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Using virtual reality to treat PTSD has its roots in the traditional treatment for the disorder, imaginal exposure therapy. In that therapy, a patient repeatedly describes traumatic events to a therapist and, in the process, tries to overcome memories, similar to those that have afflicted more than 800,000 Vietnam War veterans.

The virtual reality experience benefits those who cannot or will not conjure the images that cause them stress, Miyahira said. Virtual reality therapy helps break down those barriers by gradually reintroducing patients to the scenes of their trauma. Patients usually attend 10 therapist sessions during a five-week period, Miyahira said.

Continuing reading this fascinating story here.

Written by cdorobek

October 13, 2008 at 5:34 PM

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