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Virtual reality is Veteran’s path to recovery

“It was my first time using virtual reality. There was a dichotomy in my brain between ‘I am perfectly fine and I am freaking out’ and ‘I am perfectly fine’ was winning.”

That’s Army Veteran Joshua Maloney talking about his recovery treatment.

His virtual reality experience included gunpowder, radio chatter, turret machine gun and explosive vibrations, ending with a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) view from a Humvee driver seat traveling through a war zone.

Maloney enlisted in 2009, starting his Army tanker career with a one-year deployment to Mosul, Iraq. He finished his contract and returned home. Nine years later, he went from 18 beers a day to 30 to cope with undiagnosed PTSD.

Knowing he had to do something, he got a job in Veteran outreach. It was there he finally found help when he started a detox program.

“When I got to detox, I had the shakes and there was this VA nurse I will never forget,” Maloney said. He tried to tell her he didn’t have PTSD. She reassured him he did.

It was the first time someone had validated his suspicions. He took every program offered to him, including a VA research study led by Dr. Noah Philip. The study combined exposure to virtual reality scenes from Iraq or Afghanistan with low-level electrical current known as transcranial direct current stimulation.

Virtual reality exposure research

Through this study, he learned his fears weren’t too scary to face. By allowing his experiences and thoughts to be uncompartmentalized, he was able to address his trauma and start a path to recovery.

He highly recommends seeking help and innovative ways to augment therapy, like VR exposure, to his fellow Veterans. “Try it. You might notice you don’t feel that much during it and that is okay. Advocate for yourself and your own therapy. You can always stop,” Phillip said. “In combat, there was something wrong with turning around and saying no. It was something that was not allowed. With therapy and our lives, that is not a thing. Not only do we get to take care of ourselves, we have to.”

PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening traumatic event. The good news is there are effective treatments. VA is committed to ensuring Veterans have access to the treatments that work best.

You can learn about evidence-based treatments for PTSD.  VA is researching innovative technology to augment therapy, and is leading the nation in the clinical implementation of immersive technology such as VR. So far, VA has deployed over 3,000 VR headsets across more than 170 VA facilities.

To learn more about VA’s work to advance this transformative approach to care, visit VA Immersive’s website.

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