Virtual world aims to help soldiers with PTSD

The (Tacoma) News TribuneJanuary 25, 2011 

Virtual soldiers for years have experienced adrenaline-pumping combat scenes in “Call of Duty” and other video games.

Real veterans might want to check out a new Pentagon video game whose main challenge is comfortably navigating a visit to a shopping mall.

The Defense Department this week unveiled the “T2 Virtual PTSD Experience,” a project developed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that lets users explore the causes and symptoms of combat trauma on the battlefield and at home.

It’s intended to help soldiers and their loved ones learn about post-traumatic stress in an anonymous setting. It can be used on Second Life, a popular virtual reality platform that can be downloaded for free.

“We hope that providing a place like this in Second Life will give you a chance to get back your first life,” Kevin Holloway, one of the program’s developers, says in an introductory video that tours “Psychological Health Island” on Second Life.

Holloway is a psychologist and researcher at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, a three-year-old Pentagon program housed at Lewis-McChord. It’s charged with developing gadgets and programs that encourage soldiers to access mental health services.

In October, the center released a mobile phone application that helps soldiers track their moods. Its biggest project was a website, afterdeployment.org, that provides information about how to readjust to civilian life after serving in combat.

“We know that a lot of warriors are not accessing the health care that they need,” said Greg Reger, a psychologist and administrator at the center who worked on the new virtual reality program.

He hopes the anonymity of Second Life will empower soldiers and veterans to find guidance about post-traumatic stress without fear of social or professional repercussions. About 51 percent of officers and enlisted soldiers believe that accessing behavioral health services would impact their careers despite assurances that they would not be held back, according to a September report on Army suicides.

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