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Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress With Virtual Reality System Donated by Nonprofit SoldierStrong

·4-min read

IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich., July 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is the country’s latest Department of Veterans Affairs facility to partner with national nonprofit SoldierStrong to provide a groundbreaking virtual reality exposure therapy system known as BraveMind to aid in treating veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress.

SoldierStrong, a Stamford, Conn.-based organization dedicated to helping veterans take their next steps forward in life after service by connecting them with revolutionary medical technologies donated to VA medical centers and other facilities across the country, has donated the BraveMind system to the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center to combat the national daily average of 20 veteran suicides.

Since SoldierStrong’s inception following the tragic events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the organization has donated more than $4.2 million worth of medical devices that directly help injured veterans. Aside from the BraveMind systems, the organization also donates robotic exoskeleton suits to help paralyzed and injured veterans walk again and iBOT® powered mobility wheelchairs. This donation of virtual reality technology to Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is the 16th BraveMind system donated to a VA hospital since late 2019.

Co-founder and chairman Chris Meek said SoldierStrong’s goal to make medical devices, including the BraveMind system, available in as many states as possible was a significant factor in the donation. This is the first BraveMind virtual reality system in the state, making its treatment accessible to Michigan’s veterans for the first time.

“The positive effects that the BraveMind technology provides can make a tremendous difference in the mental health and everyday lives of those veterans living with post-traumatic stress from their time in service,” Meek said. “Not only is the system designed to make the process of recalling painful memories and remembering vital pieces of combat experiences the brain can sometimes block out due to trauma significantly easier, but it can also provide a sense of familiarity for veterans.”

He continued, “This is especially true for younger veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, who are likely to have become acquainted with video games as children at a pivotal point in their popularity. I would compare it to stepping into an old pair of shoes because it not only allows veterans to work through memories but also brings with it the familiar experience of video game-like technology.”

The virtual reality technology behind BraveMind was developed by Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo and his team at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. The technology creates 14 “worlds” of combat scenarios, from a desert roadway to a crowded Iraqi marketplace or a slum in an Afghan city. Therapists select a world based on a Veteran’s traumatic experience and customize it in the virtual reality headset, thus placing Veterans back within the midst of that memory at a pace they can handle.

“Utilizing the virtual reality technology in BraveMind gets Veterans to talk about things they’ve never talked to anyone about before,” Rizzo said. “Those memories don’t have the same emotional power that they did before because repeatedly experiencing those troubling memories in a safe environment reduces the brain’s response to them. Patients start to feel empowered, to feel that they got it out and that they can talk about it.”

The program’s efficacy stems from clinicians' ability to customize and control the content presented in the headset so precisely from sights, sounds, smells, vibrations ‒ even the weight and tactile sensation of holding a weapon ‒ that can create a patient experience mirroring the traumatic memory.

“I’m grateful that Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is committed to providing both effective solutions for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress and access to revolutionary technology by introducing the BraveMind technology in their facility,” Meek said. “This donation of the BraveMind system will provide expanded access and greater choice in PTS treatment to all of Michigan’s veterans.”

“We are grateful to the SoldierStrong organization for their gracious donation of the BraveMind Virtual Reality system,” said William J. Pearson of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center. “In addition to providing the Oscar C. Johnson VAMC (Iron Mountain, MI) with another tool in their arsenal to support Veterans mental health services, it will also afford Veterans an opportunity to have another option in the battle against PTSD.”


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