Holiday traditions and family get-togethers are a source of comfort for many. But the holidays can also act as anniversaries of unpleasant events or remind us of difficult changes that have happened in the last year. Veterans may also have memories of being deployed over a holiday during their service and could experience challenges with returning to civilian norms.
For Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, the holidays can be even more difficult to manage. While there are often bright spots, the unique struggles that trauma survivors can face as the year ends can often overshadow the joy of the season.
Helping you manage over the holiday season
If you know someone with PTSD, there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.
There are ways to cope and manage these feelings and stressful events. Here are some tips from our clinicians that can help you manage your symptoms over this holiday season:
Don’t overschedule. Leave time for yourself.
Make a plan to get things done. Set small, doable goals.
When stressed, remind yourself what has helped in the past.
Talk to your family member about what they need to feel comfortable during the holidays. If your loved one needs services, call Coaching into Care for advice on talking to them about treatment.
Keep important resources at hand, such as the Veterans Crisis Line, a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The holiday season can be difficult for people with PTSD, but there are healthy ways to cope and manage stress and have positive mental health throughout the holidays.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told a group of veteran advocates that he was cutting funding to a program that addresses veteran homelessness, according to a Dec. 6 report from Politico.
The conversation reportedly happened over the phone, with “advocates for veterans, state officials, and even officials from HUD” reacting to the news from Shulkin in outright anger.
The program, co-sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), allocates $460 million a year to housing homeless veterans. It seems to have been working, too, as veteran homelessness is down 46 percent from 2010.
Nevertheless, Shulkin determined that nearly $1 billion should be moved from “specific purpose” funds to “general purpose” funds. This means moving all of the funding used specifically to ameliorate veterans homelessness.
According to a Sept. 2 memo, the VA believes that money designated to specific programs, like addressing veteran homelessness, transplant programs, amputation care, and women’s health, would be better used in a general fund, leaving veterans hospitals to decide for themselves how to use the money. The memo states that the move is designed to support “the Secretary’s five priorities” and could be used for administrative things, like hiring more VA employees.
The memo does not state how each individual hospital must use its newfound funds. Rather, it simply notes that network directors will have control over how much (if any) to give to specific programs.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations responded to Shulkin’s plans to move the funds with a bipartisan, strongly worded letter signed by every member. In it, the committee reminded the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that his department had previously been extended the privilege of flexibility to move money without review because of its willingness to be transparent. That transparency, the letter argued, would all but disappear should Shulkin divert the specific purpose funds.
The letter closed with what seemed like a warning in the form of a suggestion: Stop, think, and before you do anything, submit to us a detailed “funding allocation plan” in the future.
It didn’t take long for Shulkin to shift gears and reverse his earlier statements. “There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,” Shulkin wrote in a statement released Dec. 6.
However, Shulkin added, “we will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program.” It is not immediately clear whether the Choice program is where Shulkin suggested the funds would go in his Dec. 1 phone call.
Upon further review of the VA’s budget brief, the department does, in fact, plan to cut funding from “certain Veterans’ benefit programs” to offset the cost of money borrowed from the nearly bankrupt Veterans Choice Program, a program designed to offer veterans medical care closer to where they reside.
The brief does not specify which programs will be cut.
Three nurses and a physician’s assistant have resigned from an Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs facility after maggots were discovered in a veteran’s wound.
The center in Talihina, Oklahoma, has reportedly had staffing issues.
According to a report by the Tulsa World, the veteran, Owen Reese Peterson, 73, who served during the Vietnam War, arrived at the center with an infection prior to his Oct. 3 death.
Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Myles Deering, a retired major general in the Oklahoma National Guard, claimed that Peterson “did not succumb as a result of the parasites” but instead died from sepsis.
According to WebMD.com, sepsis is a “serious medical condition” that is triggered when chemicals released to fight an infection in the body instead cause inflammation. It can lead to organ failure and death. As many as half of those with severe cases of sepsis end up dead.
“During the 21 days I was there, … I pleaded with the medical staff, the senior medical staff, to increase his meds so his bandages could be changed,” Raymie Parker, Peterson’s son, told the Tulsa World. Parker claimed that his requests were “met with a stonewall” by senior medical personnel and administrators.
“The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is required to maintain certain staffing levels and currently is unable to meet them,” Oklahoma State Sen. Frank Simpson, Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs chairman, said. “At Talihina, they had to reduce the population of veterans there due to the inability to staff the facility.”
The four personnel resigned prior to the commencement of termination proceedings. In 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs was rocked when two veterans — 86-year-old Louis Arterberry and 85-year-old Jay Minter — died in the Claremore Veterans Center. Minter died after he was scalded in a whirlpool, and Arterberry died of a stroke.
A physician’s assistant was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of caretaker neglect. He ultimately served a 90-day jail sentence.
Jake Larson, a World War II veteran, will be returning to Normandy, France June 2019 after 75 years. Jake is the last surviving member of a unit that stormed Omaha Beach. Many men died during World War II, and Jake often questioned why he had survived.
Jake, 96, told the New York Times, “I never thought I’d be alive 75 years later. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and had only returned to France in his mind. His humble salary at a printing business never afforded such a luxury.
However, with the help of two women and an online fund-raising campaign, Jake can now return to France for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
“I can’t believe people would donate to me — they don’t even know me,” Jake stated.
Jake is planning to write a memoir and calls his trip to France the final chapter.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.
Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.
Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.
“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.
The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veteranswho worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASHstaff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.
Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?
“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homelesswere able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.
Recover, heal, grow
The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.
He’s the proof he inspires in others.
To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.
To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.
Near Fort Bragg, North Carolina sits BHAWK — that’s short for Brad Halling American Whisky Ko. It’s a whiskey distillery brought to life by its namesake, Brad, and his wife, Jessica, in their goal to honor veterans from Southern Pines, NC. Veterans themselves, the pair knows what it means to serve.
They also know what it means to sacrifice — Brad lost his left leg from the knee down in the now-famous “Blackhawk Down” incident in Somalia. Though the injury left him ineligible to remain on active duty, he dodged Army medical boards, fought for his position, and ended up retiring as a sergeant major, prosthetic leg and all.
Now he and his wife are taking their history of service and sacrifice to a new level: making whiskey.
“Our brands will honor [veterans] as well as private citizens with demonstrated selfless service,” Jessica said in an interview with “The Pilot.”
They also added that the decision to offer whiskey went back to its versatility, and its deep ties to Americanism.
“It is a vehicle to express so many different things,” Brad said. “The joy of promotion, the heartache of loss, the celebration of a change of command.”
One feature to remind the public about the sacrifices of armed forces include the Gratitude Room, a living museum where guests will first enter. Their plan is to tell the story of various labels that are offered at the time, whether that be of a single soldier, unit or beyond, telling the intricate details behind the label’s name. Then, as they swap out for a new flavor, the Gratitude Room will also change to reflect the new piece of history.
One thing that won’t change, they said, is the American Whiskey Company’s emblem, an eagle feather that represents fallen soldiers, as well as “quiet professionals” who have provided their dedication to the U.S. The hand-drawn image shows a simple, fallen feather, as a simple nod to patriotism and those who sacrificed along the way.
As veterans themselves, the couple had long kicked around the idea of brewing as a business, but as laws began to change in North Carolina, they decided it was the right time to open up the distillery they had always dreamed of.
Both joined the military while still in high school, taking on the responsibility at a young age. Jessica served in the U.S. Army until she retired from the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. She then began working as a local lawyer in North Carolina. As for Brad, he’s retired from special forces and still works on post as a civilian. He also works as a certified prosthetist.
The distillery, which is still being built, is slated to host a medium-sized distillery plant, a cocktail bar, restaurant, retail space, a restaurant, and an outdoor stage. They will brew and sell their own concoctions of high-end whiskey variations, as well as spirits. Eventually, they plan to add bourbon, vodkas, gin and more.
For more information on BHAWK or to follow their process, follow them on Instagram @hallingwhiskey
There’s something about a conference. Maybe it’s the swag. Maybe it’s the sessions. Maybe it’s the thrill of ordering new business cards and finally meeting your online heroes in real life. Likely, it’s some combination of them all. At a good conference, you can’t walk into the main space without hearing the excitement. But when you walk into a great conference, not only do you hear it, you can feel it.
This year, the one conference that has to be on your radar and your calendar is the Military Influencer Conference in Orlando, Florida, from September 23-25. After the inaugural conference brought together over 300 veteran and military spouse influencers in Dallas last year, this year’s MIC promises to not only match last year’s magic, but to top it.
Here are our top 5 reasons you can’t miss MIC Orlando:
Military Influence Conference founder, Curtez Riggs, speaks at MIC 2017.
As most incredible things begin, the Military Influencer Conference started with one person and a vision. Founder Curtez Riggs wanted to connect the different corners of the military space, from the business owners to the bloggers, the freelancers to the designers, inclusive of veterans and military spouses. He knew the passion behind the entrepreneurs and the savvy of the content creators, and the power in bringing them together. And so he did. The result in Dallas was an extraordinary exchange of ideas with promise only to build, and MIC Orlando will do just that. Attendees will learn how to grow their business, no matter what stage it’s in, and how to incorporate giving back to our community into their business model.
Often times at a conference, you’ll see one or two headliners and then sessions that warrant more of a coffee break than continued interest. That is anything but the case for MIC Orlando. While keynotes like Jim Koch of Sam Adams, our own David Gale, and Janine Boldrin of Military Spouse Magazine should be enough to draw you in, there is a tremendous depth of expertise in the panel sessions. With tactical takeaways like how to develop e-courses, social media strategies, financing your business, launching a freelance career and so much more, you’ll be learning from and interacting with the best of the best. It’s rare to have such breadth of experience in your network, let alone within arm’s reach. From the MIC website:
With more than 21 educational sessions and a wide range of dynamic, inspiring speakers, this event gives digital entrepreneurs an unprecedented opportunity to find the resources and connections needed to grow your online business. Time and time again, you’ll be introduced to bold new ideas and proven strategies for both short and long-term growth.
Sure, you’ll meet so many incredible people, but if that isn’t reason enough, MIC Orlando could forever change your business. StreetShares, who has partnered with Sam Adams Brewing the America Dream, will be announcing three Veterans Small Business Awards, for a total of ,000. There will be a live pitch competition where succinctly explaining your business model could garner investments, and an opportunity for service organizations to have a roundtable with The Veterans Trust. We don’t want to put the pressure on you and say these are “once-in-a-lifetime” chances, but, well… let’s call a spade a spade: these are once-in-a-lifetime chances.
Some of the best takeaways from a conference aren’t in what you learn, but in who you meet. MIC Orlando has some of the biggest names in the military space, and not only are those folks attending, they’re there to connect, to collaborate, to network. That’s right: they want to meet you! Don’t miss the opportunity to share a drink and your dreams with some of the most prominent influencers, who are genuinely interested in what you’re doing and how they can help elevate you.
In addition to the impressive speakers and fellow attendees, the sponsors of MIC Orlando are second to none. With companies like USAA, Comcast, Military By Owner, GovX, Amazon, Crosby Marketing, Military Fresh Network and Life Flip Media sponsoring the event, you’ll have an unprecedented opportunity to talk about partnerships, branding, and so much more.
(Rosen Shingle Creek)
Honestly, we’d attend MIC 2018 no matter where it was being held after last year’s experience, but the fact that it’s at a world-renowned resort certainly doesn’t hurt. We’re guessing a lot of collaborations will happen over drinks at the pool, on the golf course, and at one of the resort’s many lounges or restaurants. With pristine grounds, extravagant amenities and beautiful accommodations, the Rosen Shingle Creek is reason enough to go. Add on the incredible benefits of MIC Orlando, and it becomes a “can’t miss.”
We know you won’t regret buying your ticket to MIC Orlando, but you might regret if you don’t. You’re worth the investment. We can’t wait to see you in Florida.
Every year, an estimated 200,000 veterans leave the military for new civilian lives. For many of them, getting a job is the first and most important step. As they look to new civilian careers, many veterans find it challenging to directly apply the skills attained in service to their new civilian careers — making underemployment just as big a problem as unemployment.
Underemployed military veterans are either not making enough money to sustain themselves or are holding jobs for which they are overqualified. Either way, underemployment can lead to job hopping, trouble getting hired elsewhere, and even depression.
Microsoft, one of the world’s most respected and well-established companies, has invested in a solution to veteran underemployment: Microsoft Software and Systems Academy. MSSA offers transitioning service members the training and guidance to pivot their skillset and become credentialed for the technical jobs of the future.
“Microsoft believes its role as an industry leader is to enable veterans to see computer science and STEM careers as a viable path when transitioning to civilian life in the public or private sector,” Chris Cortez, Microsoft’s Vice President of Military Affairs, said. “MSSA also helps Microsoft and other IT leaders attract capable, driven and diverse talent with solid, transferable skills.”
MSSA’s intensive 17-week program trains and certifies veterans in job skills the tech sector will need for years to come, such as software engineer, cloud application developer and server and cloud administrator – all without spending years in a traditional four-year degree program.
Veterans from all military branches and backgrounds have successfully graduated from MSSA and entered civilian life as professionals in the exciting tech industry. Employers find they bring a range of professional development skills to the table that new college grads don’t necessarily have.
“Service members and veterans are exactly the type of talent the industry needs to evolve the face of IT,” Cortez said. “They are trained to quickly assess, analyze and fix a situation with the resources at hand—all while working with a diverse group of people as a team.”
As of February 2021, it’s even easier for service members to integrate the training into their busy lives, and without using their GI Bill benefits. Microsoft has moved MSSA to an entirely virtual format, and is fully funding the offering, at no cost to the service member.
The program has a 94% graduation rate, and after the training course is completed graduates have the opportunity to interview for a job with Microsoft or any of its 750+ hiring partners in the tech sector.
Best of all, it’s a challenging career field with major growth potential. Goodbye, underemployment; hello long-term career path.
Program participants often say they change significantly over the course of the program. “In the beginning, there is concern and uncertainty about the future. Toward the end, there is a sense of confidence,” Cortez said. “They are comfortable applying to and working for tech giants like Microsoft, AWS and Google.”
With its Military Affairs team and MSSA, Microsoft is changing the industry’s perception of what a technology worker looks like, all while helping American military veterans enter civilian living with meaningful, well-paid employment in an exciting field. To learn more about the MSSA program, visit their website.
Richard Overton just celebrated his 112th birthday in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Unbeknownst to him, identity thieves were using his compromised bank account to purchase savings bonds through TreasuryDirect. Despite his well-known affinity for whiskey and cigars, the supercentenarian and World War II vet still requires round-the-clock care that costs up to $15,000 per month.
“What the hell are these debits?” Volma recalled thinking. Overton’s bank and TreasuryDirect are aware of the transactions are are taking appropriate measures.
Overton is a staple of the Austin community, a well-known personality who receives well-wishers from around the city on his birthday every year. He is featured on one of the city’s murals depicting influential African-American and Latino personalities. On his latest birthday, he received a visit Austin mayor, Steve Adler.
The 112-year-old is reasonably famous, especially among locals and much of his personal information is available online — though not his bank account and social security numbers. The drained account is separate from a GoFundMe account the family uses to raise money for Overton’s care.
His GoFundMe account keeps Overton in his home and away from having to live in a nursing home. Born in 1906, he has outlived all his closest relatives and requires $480 a day for his constant care.
After serving in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, George Platt faithfully wore his identification tag — informally known as a “dog tag.”
Like every other member of the military, he was originally issued two, but at some point one went missing.
The other one, however, was always with him throughout most of his adult life.
“He had it with him when I first met him,” said his wife of 30 years, Sheila Platt. The couple met in 1983.
Years later, sometime after George Platt was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, the lone tag that he’d worn for so long disappeared.
“I just assumed when I didn’t see it that he put it somewhere in the house, and I would come across it,” said Shelia Platt. “I never did, and I stopped thinking about it.”
Her husband died in 2014 at the age of 67 and she gave his clothing to Goodwill. But she did not find the tag.
Three years passed, and then something happened. Something “amazing.”
Chain of events
William “Biff” Trimble served in the US Air Force in Southeast Asia about the same time as George Platt.
Today, he volunteers with Disabled American Veterans Chapter 86, driving veterans to medical appointments. As a result, he sometimes has one of the DAV vans parked outside his home.
That fact provided a critical link in the chain of events that was to follow.
On a recent weekend, Trimble’s regular postal carrier was making Express Mail deliveries in the vicinity of Bing’s Landing. Hurricane Irma had swept through and left behind a lot of street debris there. By chance, the carrier spotted a small metal rectangle in the debris and picked it up.
It was a military dog tag belonging to George Platt.
The carrier had the tag with her as she drove her regular route when she spotted the DAV van parked in Trimble’s driveway. She approached Trimble and his wife, showed them the dog tag and said, “I found this on the street; is there anything you can do?”
Trimble accepted the tag and took it to the DAV post, where he gave it to chapter treasurer Larry Rekart.
Rekart checked the chapter’s membership records, but did not find George Platt there. So he turned to the telephone directory.
At a time when many people rely solely on cell phones and the telephone white pages are shrinking, the Platts’ number was still listed. Sheila Platt had never changed it.
The day the phone rang, she had just returned home after having evacuated because of the storm. It marked the conclusion of an unhappy two weeks for Shelia Platt. She had evacuated just two days after attending her mother’s funeral.
When she answered the phone, the voice at the other end asked to speak with her husband.
She said simply that he wasn’t there, so the caller — it was Rekart — asked if he was speaking with Mrs. Platt.
She admits becoming irritated at first but what Rekart said next surprised her. Someone had found her husband’s dog tag and she could pick it up at the DAV office.
She wanted to tell someone about this incredible development, but her confidant had always been her mother. She wondered: “Who do I call for this? Who do I call to tell this story to?”
She settled on her husband’s niece. Then, by chance, the man who served as best man at the Platts’ wedding texted her to find out if she’d returned from her evacuation, so she called him.
“I said, ‘You will not believe this story,'” she said.
At last, Sheila Platt went to the DAV office to retrieve the missing ID. It was an emotional moment.
“I hadn’t cried over him in a long time,” she said, “and when I came here, I started.”
Bing’s Landing is almost nine-and-a-half miles from the Platt home. And it’s on the opposite side of the Matanzas River. By Sheila Platt’s account, her husband wouldn’t have gone there.
So, how did his dog tag end up so far from home?
It was a source of speculation when she met with members of the DAV. One person asked if her house had ever been robbed, but she said no. Another asked if she had given any of her husband’s clothing away, and she remembered the Goodwill.
Today, she wonders if the tag had been in a pocket she hadn’t checked before donating the clothing. Still, that may be as close as she ever gets to solving the mystery.
Sheila keeps the tag on a fob for now and plans to do something more permanent with it eventually.
George Platt, she said, “was just a great guy; he was a great husband.”
The tag, she added, was “something that was important to him. The fact that he lost it or whatever I attribute to the Alzheimer’s. Because it was something that he always kept with him.”
This is the second installment in a three-part series on the officers and men of the 349th Field Artillery Regiment in World War I. This series of blog posts profile the World War I service and post-war experiences of three Veterans of the 92nd Division’s 349th Field Artillery Regiment, one of the Army’s first predominately African-American artillery units. Alabaman and Colonel Dan T. Moore was its reluctant white commander. First Lieutenant Everett Johnson, a black officer, commanded Battery E, and Sergeant Robert Samuel Chase was one of Johnson’s non-commissioned officers. All three survived the war and are interred in national cemeteries maintained by VA’s National Cemetery Administration. Both Johnson and Chase, highly skilled and educated, faced their own challenges after the war.
Colonel Dan T. Moore (1877-1941) commanded the 349th Field Artillery Regiment in France during World War I. As founder and first commandant of the Army School of Fire and Field Artillery at Fort Sill, OK, he was one of the Army’s most respected artillery officers. He served in the Spanish-American War, then as military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt during his first term. Moore garnered national attention in 1917 when Roosevelt revealed publicly that a young artillery captain that he sparred with often between 1904 and 1906 blinded his left eye in the boxing ring. Moore did not know he had injured the president until he read it in the news.
As Americans learned about Moore in late 1917, he was transferred from Fort Meade, MD, to Camp Dix, NJ, to take command of an all-Black artillery regiment. This assignment was a disappointment. One contemporary remarked that that assignment – to a “negro regiment” – would certainly “be hard on Dan” and was “mighty ungrateful of the [Wilson] Administration.” Much later, his son-in-law affirmed that Moore felt the same: [H]e “was born in Montgomery, AL. He appreciated the active duty. He did not appreciate serving with a Negro outfit.” Moore felt he was expected to fail because the General Staff did not want the all-Black brigade to succeed and that it assigned its best artillery officers to the unit just so they could say “this new venture in colored artillery had a fair show.”
Moore did not resign himself to failure, however. He anticipated that his men would likely never get to the Western Front but resolved to create a capable unit to force Army leadership to justify combat exclusion.
The biggest obstacle was the quality of draftees. Artillery was a technical field that required a general understanding of science and math, and he was predominately receiving Southern farmers. He and other white officers aimed to train proficient Black artillery officers and to get better-prepared draftees and volunteers. One white captain with the unit, Royal F. Nash, had worked as secretary of the NAACP and spearheaded a recruiting drive in black communities for the 349th. As Black officers completed training, Moore sent them home to find new recruits with high school education, at a minimum. Moore’s work helped form one of the most educated African-American units in the U.S. Armed Forces.
When Moore led white units, his counterparts described his relationship with officers and subordinates glowingly. It is not known if Moore’s Black soldiers felt the same. Regardless, he created a high-performing unit that defied expectations and was given the chance to prove themselves on the battlefield. Moore’s Black artillerymen helped push the Germans toward defeat in the final weeks of the war. But the men Moore led in France were among the last he would command. He resigned from the active Army after returning home from the war, accepted a permanent commission in the Officer’s Reserve Corps with the rank of colonel, and was an active reservist through 1935.
Moore’s family described him as a somewhat lonesome man in retirement, someone without purpose outside of the Army. He died of an apparent heart attack on April 15, 1941, and is buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery (Section E, Site 44). In December 1958, the officers of the artillery school he created installed a bronze plaque at his gravesite, which was eventually attached to the back of his headstone.
For active duty military members, playing video games can help release stress, build camaraderie and offer comforting familiarity in foreign environments. For veterans returning from combat, gaming can reduce isolation, renew connections with fellow service members and provide therapeutic benefits.
Recognizing the unique value of gaming for the military community, Microsoft is partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide Xbox Adaptive Controller units to 22 initial VA rehab centers across the U.S.
Launched in 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was created to make gaming accessible to players with limited mobility by enabling them to customize their setups and connect with external devices like buttons, switches and joysticks that accommodate their playing. The controller, which can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games, was developed after extensive consultation with gamers, accessibility advocates and nonprofits that work with gamers with limited mobility, including veterans.
Ken Jones, the founder of Warfighter Engaged, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides gaming devices to wounded vets, says the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes gaming accessible to a broader range of veterans.
“People just want to participate, and it’s going to allow them to do that,” he says. “It allows for a much bigger population of people to be included in gaming.”
Microsoft and VA partner to bring Xbox Adaptive Controller to Veterans with limited mobility
Gaming is a popular activity among the military community, but navigating a traditional controller can be difficult or impossible for injured veterans. The inability to game can mean the loss of connection to veterans’ military communities and to an activity that was a significant part of their lives during service.
The partnership with Microsoft aims to give veterans with limited mobility the opportunity to game again, get them more involved with their rehabilitation and increase social interaction, says Dr. Leif Nelson, director of National Veterans Sports Programs Special Events for the VA.
“We’re looking for platforms for veterans to interact with each other, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller can be that access point to get involved in this world and in the gaming community,” Nelson says. “Gaming is now everywhere in the world, and while people tend to think of it as isolating, we’re finding that it actually has the opposite effect and can increase interactions with other veterans and folks who are non-veterans. I think this can be a tool in the rehabilitation process to achieve a lot of different goals.”
For Jeff Holguin, gaming was a way to cope with the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder he experienced after being discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2003 following an injury. He’d planned on a career in the military, but that identity was suddenly gone. Facing a series of surgeries and feeling adrift in the civilian world, Holguin isolated himself. He turned to gaming, an activity he’d enjoyed since childhood, and found the sense of inclusion he was craving.
“It gave me an outlet, a virtual efficacy within a world that I didn’t feel like I had a place in anymore,” says Holguin. “I made a lot of social connections and friends through that virtual space.”
Holguin went back to school, studying clinical psychology with a focus on trauma and PTSD. He has designed research for Microsoft around mixed-reality devices and learning outcomes and is also a clinical psychology doctoral intern at the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System in Prescott, Arizona. For Holguin, gaming provided a space where he could gradually reintegrate into post-military life.
“It was a sense of belonging and a sense of safety,” he says. “When you have trauma and you’re depressed, sometimes even just a little bit of stimulation is too much and you just don’t have the cognitive or emotional resources to deal with other people’s well-meaning interactivity.
“Gaming gives you what we might call exposure therapy, meaning you get a little bit of socialization, but when you’re ready to turn it off you can turn it off,” Holguin says. “Gaming provided some significant therapeutic value for me.”
Jamie Kaplan, a recreation therapist at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, has been using gaming as therapy with his patients — about 25 percent of whom have had traumatic spinal injuries — for seven years.
Kaplan, himself an avid gamer, says gaming provides a range of therapeutic benefits. Manipulating a controller and pressing buttons, for example, can help with motor skills. Decisions made throughout a game, from choosing which character to play to which moves to make, requires cognitive processing and visual processing, he says.
“It’s fine motor skills, gross motor skills, decision-making ability, information processing, cognitive processing,” Kaplan says. “We can assign a number of therapeutic values to gaming.”
Kaplan used various gaming systems and consoles with patients before getting an Xbox Adaptive Controller last fall. He particularly likes the Copilot feature, which was developed for Xbox One and links two controllers as if they were one, allowing players to team up on a game and share controls. The feature quickly became one of Xbox’s most popular ones and was built into the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
One of his patients, Kaplan says, was able to play with his brother for the first time in three years by using Copilot. “It’s amazing,” Kaplan says. “It allows me as the therapist to make up for whatever deficit the patient has in utilizing a regular controller or the adaptive controller.”
Kaplan uses games ranging from sports and racing games to virtual reality games and programs that allow veterans with limited mobility to try activities such as scuba diving, fishing or hiking. VR is useful for helping amputees work on balance, Kaplan says, and VR guided relaxation and meditation programs can help veterans reduce stress and anxiety — and potentially reduce reliance on pain medications such as opioids.
“I see chronic pain patients every day and tell them, ‘I’m not going to cure your pain; we’re just hoping to trick it for a little while,'” he says. “You’re distracting them from the pain by engaging them in gaming.”
Gaming has been part of Mike Monthervil’s life since his childhood growing up in Carrefour, Haiti, a suburban area southwest of Port-au-Prince. Monthervil’s family was one of the only ones in the neighborhood with a gaming system, but electricity was only available for part of each day. When the lights would come back on, Monthervil recalls, “every kid would be banging on our door to come and play a game.”
For Monthervil, gaming was a passion that also provided an escape from a challenging environment. “It was a very tough place to live. Kids don’t have a lot to do there,” he says. “Gaming made my childhood better. It took a lot of stress out for me.
“To this day, I still talk to the guys who are over there that I grew up with, that are still going through the hardship of being there,” he says.
Monthervil continued gaming after moving to the United States and later enlisting in the U.S. Army. Stationed in Afghanistan, he passed time playing games with his fellow soldiers between missions. But in July 2014, Monthervil sustained a serious spinal cord injury after falling backward into a ditch during a training session, leaving him unable to use his legs. He underwent surgery and spent nine months at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida. There he met Kaplan, who helped him adapt his gaming to accommodate the dexterity limitations caused by his accident.
Kaplan gave Monthervil an adaptive controller to try several years ago, but it was cumbersome and difficult for him to use. After getting an Xbox Adaptive Controller, Kaplan created a custom set-up for Monthervil by adding a few additional buttons. Monthervil recently got one of the controllers at home and says it works better for him than any device he’s tried since his injury.
“Of all the adaptive stuff I’ve tried, it’s by far the best one,” says Monthervil, who’s 26.
Photo of Mike Monthervil gaming with the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
The Xbox collaboration is part of a strategic partnership between Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs dating back more than 20 years. Recent efforts under the partnership have focused on equipping VA employees with productivity and collaboration technologies, migrating VA legacy systems to the cloud and using advanced analytics in VA call centers to give veterans better information to make decisions about their benefits and medical care.
Toni Townes-Whitley, president of U.S. Regulated Industries at Microsoft, says the Xbox Adaptive Controller collaboration is part of a broader effort to improve therapeutic and clinical care for veterans. But its fundamental goal is to harness technology to improve veterans’ lives, she says.
“It’s an example of using technology as a means to a much more significant end, which is a sense of belonging, being part of a team, a sense of reconnection, a sense of family,” she says.
Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, sees the collaboration as an ideal pairing of Microsoft’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in gaming with the vast reach of the VA, which serves more than 9 million veterans nationwide in its health care system.
“Everyone can play games, and we really focus on that as an organization,” he says. “With the VA being the largest integrated health care provider in the U.S., we thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring our focus on gaming and the great work that the VA is doing together.”
Microsoft will use feedback and data collected by the VA centers to determine how effective the Xbox Adaptive Controller is in serving veterans and how the device might be improved going forward, Townes-Whitley says. Nelson believes the initiative will serve not just existing gamers, but also veterans who weren’t previously into gaming.
“If we do our job well and we’re able to expose veterans to (the Xbox Adaptive Controller) as a possible tool or intervention in their rehab process, I expect to find successes even in those folks who have never gamed before in their lives,” he says.
A 2018 study found that gaming can relieve stress for veterans, help them cope with moods and provide a way to connect. Kaplan also sees the Xbox Adaptive Controller as an equalizer for veterans and others with disabilities.
“One of the biggest things kids and adults with disabilities face is the stigma of being different. Online, we’re all the same,” he says. “I could be missing my arms or my legs and you wouldn’t know it. Gaming really helps to promote that feeling of normalcy and feeling of belonging.
“I have a lot of respect for Xbox seeing and filling a need for making something that allows military members and anyone who has a disability to be able to game,” Kaplan says.
“I think it’s great for a mainstream company like Microsoft to be the one to take the first step. I hope it encourages other companies to do that.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.