Syracuse VA to Use Virtual Technology to Help Combat Veterans Tackle Trauma

Sep 18, 2019

This video shows how the VR headset could be used during a session to help a veteran relive traumatic events. Psychology experts say such experiences aid in recovery from trauma.
Credit SoldierStrong.org / WAER-FM 88.3

Veterans suffering from trauma from their time in combat might soon be using technology from video games to help the heal.  Donations from a veterans support group and Syracuse University will help the Syracuse VA Medical Center.


Syracuse VA officials say a high percentage of combat veterans have some level of trauma symptoms, and PTSD Team Leader Shawne Steiger says there’s one big barrier for them to get over it.

The reason people don't get better from trauma is that they're constantly trying to not remember it.  It intrudes, fragments, and disrupts their lives.   The goal of therapy is to help them be able to remember the trauma without anxiety.  They're able to store it in a different part of their brain so it's not haunting them so much."

That’s where virtual reality technology comes in.  The Syracuse VA is receiving a donation from Soldier Strong with support form Syracuse University of unique hardware and software the allows a veteran to relive their trauma – in the hopes of healing and preventing further problems such as depression, substance buse and suicide.  Soldier Strong’s Chris Meek says this virtual reality treatment should help Middle East vets.

A therapist guides a veteran through the virtual reality session
Credit SoldierStrong.org / WAER-FM 88.3

"One of the biggest reasons for veteran suicide is untrreated post-traumatic stress.  Why is it untreated?  Because of the stigma.  By putting them back into the video game environment, it's really a video game that heals.  It helps reduce that stigma, and hopefully reduce the 20 veteran suicides a day."

SU, through its Opeation Hat Trick helped fund the technology, which Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie says continues the growing commitment to veterans.

"The opportunity and ability to leverage technology and research to bring it to solving a critical challenge in the community.  Our university has a long history serving veterans.   Five percent of our enrolled student population are what we call military connected ... active duty military and veterans."

VA Behavioral Health officials hope to start training an implementing the virtual reality therapy later this year.