PTSD and VR: How Gaming Can Benefit Veterans

There cannot be enough said about the military veterans who sacrifice their lives to help us maintain our free way of life. Regardless of where they travel while enlisted, they are often met with grueling conditions, exposed to dangerous substances, and faced with violent situations. When they come back, readjusting to everyday life can be quite a struggle. 

Those who are impacted the most can go to counseling, but when talking alone is not be enough, they may need more. Luckily, new research is showing that veterans can find relief in one of the activities that they might enjoy the most: video games.

Though they should be selected carefully, certain video games can make a big impact on military veterans who struggle from physical and mental strain. Not only are the games themselves providing support, but video game companies are also getting into the action in a purposeful way.

Video Games and Physical Harm

As time goes on, more organizations are providing support for veterans who are having a hard time adjusting back to civilian life. The Veterans Health Administration offers medical and surgical services to veterans with physical impairments, along with mental health assistance. Because of these services, these individuals are becoming more mentally fit, and they’re finding better jobs as industries like the post office make room to hire more veterans. 

However, there can still be gaps in treatment, and video games can fill those gaps. Some may be surprised to learn that video games can help veterans with physical impairments, including missing limbs. It may be a little old school, but playing the Wii could help with accelerating physical therapy.

Because the Wii has a wireless controller, it allows more freedom of movement so counselors can select games that match up with the veteran’s treatment plan. This can also be a more engaging alternative for patients who grow bored with standard therapy. 

Another video game experience that is making waves is CAREN, which is a highly-advanced virtual reality environment that helps veterans and other impaired patients improve their coordination and mobility. When they play, the game challenges them to make specified movements as a therapist monitors their actions. This game helps the patients regain confidence while also providing the counselor with insight on how to tweak their treatment plans.

Video Games and PTSD

Depending on the war or conflict that they were involved in, studies show that between 15-20% of veterans live with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental health issue can wreak havoc on sleep habits and everyday interactions at their jobs, and even with friends and family. Although these feelings can lessen over time, some veterans struggle longer, and those who have additional stress can have a more significant struggle with PTSD.

So, one of the ways to alleviate these stressful feelings is with video games. Studies are beginning to show that video games can relieve stress on their own, but there are some video games that can help with PTSD specifically. One of the newest is DEEP-VR, which uses virtual reality technology to put the patient in a calming underwater environment. The game is controlled by their breathing, so as they breathe deeper, they float downward and see more of the fish and plants that make up the gorgeous underwater world. Veterans can use these techniques in the real world when they feel negative feelings coming over them.

Recently, there have been new studies that show that the classic puzzle game Tetris can also do wonders to help those with PTSD and depression. The main reason is that Tetris and other similar games like Dr. Mario require concentrated visual attention and since the gamer is so invested in getting a high score, they start to focus less on traumatic memories. It is also believed that playing a game like Tetris can fill some of the space in our brains that stores traumatic memories.

Gaming Companies Do More

In addition to producing games that could benefit military veterans, video game companies themselves are stepping up with generous programs for those in need. One of these programs is the Call of Duty Endowment, which is responsible for putting 54,000 veterans into quality jobs that they may not have found otherwise. The money comes from the earnings of the highly profitable Call of Duty video game franchise.

The program, which was founded in 2012, states that they only need $522 per veteran to get them a job, and these positions are nothing to sneeze at, with an average salary of over $58,000. 

Another popular program is Stack Up, which has a mission of improving the lives of veterans with PTSD using video games. They offer many programs, including their “stacks,” which are facilities located around the world where they provide mental illness and suicide prevention services to veterans. They also send supply crates filled with video games to active military personnel in combat zones and military hospitals. The packages provide a nice distraction to our armed forces so they can get more joy out of their service and may not be as bad off once they return to civilian life.

These actions prove that video games are the great unifier. Not only can they create a nice break during troubled times, but they may also provide necessary relief for those who risked everything to provide us the freedom to play in the first place.


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