Edmonds Military Wire: An ‘Avatar’-like treatment approach for combat veterans

By Michael Schindler

In 2009, James Cameron wowed the world with his movie, “Avatar.” By all standards, the technology, the 3D – all of it impressive. (The story line a bit questionable, but that’s just my opinion.) Here was a world that humans could enter into and experience a different life. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) is hoping to create a similar experience for veterans with their virtual space, located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit with some of the folks at T2, and while the facilities aren’t what you’d expect, their team is impressive.

Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder can now enter a virtual world from their home and use a Department of Defense virtual space to learn about PTSD causes, symptoms and resources for information and care. Visitors use an avatar, a graphic image that represents a person, to enter virtual reality areas, experience simulations of combat events that are common causes of PTSD and talk with other visitors. They can take a plane to “return” from the combat experience and visit areas, such as a shopping mall, to help them adjust to life at home by learning about the symptoms of PTSD.

All of the areas display information to help the visitor understand the effects of the deployment experience and show them resources for care.

“We believe this is the first time DoD has used interactive simulations with the Web to help our military community with PTSD in the privacy of their homes,” said Dr. George Peach Taylor, Jr., the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.

T2 also designed the virtual world experience to help family members and friends of veterans better understand how PTSD affects combat veterans.

The virtual PTSD experience is built in the Second Life(r) virtual world platform and can be accessed from your home computer. Detailed information for entering T2’s Virtual PTSD Experience is at T2 Virtual World.

While not quite Cameron’s version of “Avatar” (you won’t find total immersion in this virtual world), the military is working to create worlds most of us still visit in the movies.  All in an effort to better serve our veterans.

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include  “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.”  He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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