Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

Long before the pandemic began impacting visiting resident veterans in VA homes, a sense of isolation and being forgotten was ever-present. One virtual reality company is working hard to change that.

Chris Brickler is the CEO of MyndVR, which aims to lift the isolation of older adults in nursing homes and improve their lives. By creating settings where veterans can relive cherished memories or create new ones, they are on the cusp of leading research that is seeing health benefits to virtual reality for these older adults. For Brickler though, this technology is personal.

“Someone like myself that has come from a military family background, [I have a] deep respect for the service provided. When I hear my grandfather’s stories of World War II — those will live with me for the rest of my life,” Brickler explained.

Part of what MyndVR hopes to accomplish is to create that engagement piece, especially in the face of so much isolation from the world.

“My theory is that as people age their 4 walls get smaller. If there is anything that we can do as a company and society to keep those walls expanding instead of shrinking, VR seems like a cool way to do it because we can bring the world with infinite possibilities to these folks,” Brinkler said. 

Research has indicated that virtual reality is beneficial for dementia patients as well as those suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. While the use of VR technology is still relatively new, it is promising. MyndVR’s website shares that the company has found a reduction in stress and anxiety and stimulation of memory and cognition. The best part of it all is the smiles it puts on the faces of those who use it.  

MyndVR began its work with veterans’ homes in 2017 with the Long Island State Veterans Home. It was there that they launched their veteran’s initiative.

“When you take a war veteran on a magical airplane ride taking off the USS Roosevelt in the Atlantic Ocean … It’s mind-blowing,” Brinkler shared. 

The company also uses a lot of music with their technology. Brinkler shared that research has demonstrated the positive impact music has on parts of the brain, even in the midst of deteriorating dementia.

“We’ve taken a night scene from the 1950s and reenacted and allowed a time teleportation for the viewer to go back to a table with a cocktail and a band playing songs from 60 years ago. We can now bring that with the music therapy aspect and socialization to them. It’s a really immersive way to inspire and help from a therapy point of view,” he explained. 

As the pandemic hit, an already bleak reality for many nursing homes got ever bleaker as they were forced to stop leaving their rooms completely. And this Veterans Day, many of the nation’s heroes are still stuck in isolation. 

“When COVID hit, it amplified everything we do,” Brinkler said.

The company also uses a lot of music with their technology. Brinkler shared that research has demonstrated the positive impact music has on parts of the brain, even in the midst of deteriorating dementia.

The company went into overdrive to create a safe way to bring MyndVR into veteran’s rooms so that they could have some joy amid increasing isolation and fear due to the pandemic.  

With research indicating that seniors are at the most risk from the COVID-19 virus, safety protocols to protect them will most likely stay in place for some time. It is with this in mind that MyndVR is working hard to get this technology into every veteran’s home possible to provide joy and escape for those who need and deserve it the most. 

With many veterans unable to physically leave and go anywhere due to their health restrictions and now the ongoing pandemic, this technology brings the world to them instead. Scenes of Paris, flying and musicals are just the tip of the spear for what MyndVR can create in experiences for America’s heroes and aging population. 

“What I want people to know is that we are deeply committed to the health of our seniors and so many of them are veterans. We’ve created an entire channel in our company called Project Hero,” Brinkler shared.

“Building content for this audience to help in that overall healing modality is our deep commitment to veterans and their families.”

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army Veteran is unsung hero in COVID-19 battle

Army Veteran Kolan Glass is not a doctor or a nurse. Still, in the battle against COVID-19, he is one of the most critical employees at North Las Vegas VAMC. Glass is the primary housekeeper in the emergency department. After a Veteran has been released, Glass ensures the room is sanitized and prepared for the next patient.


“I clean every room as I would want it if I was the next patient to be staying in it,” says Glass. “I sanitize each room with my full attention.”

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

North Las Vegas VA housekeeper and Army Veteran Kolan Glass sanitizes the emergency department.

Using technology to ensure safety

Glass and his fellow housekeepers employ the latest technology to prevent infection. This includes a remote-controlled system that uses ultraviolet light to purify equipment, room surfaces and objects.

“Probably about 90 percent of us [housekeepers] are Vets,” he says. “That means we talk and we don’t panic. Sure, we’re dealing with a pandemic, but we still have to get the job done and keep everybody safe.”

Glass experienced first-hand how a viral outbreak can test the emergency department. In March, Glass came in contact with a COVID-19-positive patient. He and other employees were placed on a 14-day quarantine.

“I didn’t get nervous,” Glass says. “I understood it was a precautionary measure, but I was ready to get back to work.”

Glass’s supervisor recognizes his dedication and leadership.

“Even after he had to self-isolate from his family, and with the stress of waiting for testing results, he immediately picked up right where he left off,” says Jesse Diaz. Diaz is chief of environmental management safety (EMS) at North Las Vegas VAMC. “He’s been very vocal in educating the staff and his housekeeping peers in his area. He wants to develop a partnership with the clinical staff and EMS to help reduce the chances of COVID-19 infecting or impacting others.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

Watch a WWII tank commander reunite with his Hellcat

A group of tank restorers was working on a World War II Hellcat when they realized that the man who worked that exact Hellcat from Omaha Beach to V-E Day, Don Verle Breinholt, happened to live just a few miles down the road from them.


The restorers rushed to finish their restoration in time for Breinholt and his tank to reunite at a veteran appreciation event.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
An M18 Hellcat sits on display during an event in the Netherlands. (Photo: Dammit, CC BY-SA 2.5 nl)

The M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer was one of the fastest and most agile armored vehicles of World War II. It was custom designed to cripple Germany’s Panzer Corps, quickly moving to the heart of the action and firing its 76mm main gun into Nazi armor. It would also dart ahead of an enemy thrust and then lie in wait to launch an ambush.

The Hellcat was so fast that America’s modern and feared Abrams Main Battle Tank, widely praised for its speed, is actually slower than the Hellcat. The Abrams can book it across the battlefield at 45 mph. The Hellcat can swing past it at 53 mph.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
An M18 Hellcat fires its 76mm main gun in Germany in 1945. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

And the ammo on the Hellcat was vicious. While the gun itself was similar to the one on most American medium tanks, Hellcats carried high-velocity, armor-piercing rounds designed to jet molten metal right through German armor.

While Hellcats were lethal, they were also vulnerable. The Hellcats carried minimal armor and could be killed with everything from tank rounds to panzerfausts to heavy machine guns.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

That’s what makes it so amazing that Breinholt made it from Omaha as a gunner to where he met up with the Russians as a vehicle commander without suffering his own life-threatening injury or losing his Hellcat.

You can watch the restoration and learn a lot more about the M18 Hellcat and the modern M1 Abrams in the video below. Breinholt speaks throughout the video, but you can see him meet his old vehicle for the first time since May 1945 at the 46-minute mark:

Articles

The first openly-gay service member fought the Air Force to a standstill

Leonard Matlovich joined the Air Force in 1963. He served three tours in Vietnam, volunteering for all of them. The son of an Air Force Chief, his service record was nothing short of exemplary. The only problem was that Matlovich was gay in the military at a time when discrimination was accepted practice.


Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Leonard Matlovich enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, CMSgt Matlovich by his side. (leonardmatlovich.com)

Matlovich might seem like an anomaly by today’s standards. He was a conservative Republican and a staunch Catholic who hated the reforms of Vatican II. He even converted to Mormonism later in his service.

In 1966, he received an Air Force Commendation Medal for bravery during a mortar attack. He personally ran to the base perimeter to bolster the defenses there and help tend to the wounded.

He was innovative and dedicated. An electrician, he came up with a nighttime lighting system for base perimeters that inhibited the ability of North Vietnamese snipers to target the base population. Matlovich personally repaired all the base systems during nighttime attacks, never waiting until the dust settled. This is how he received a second Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Matlovich receiving the Bronze Star while deployed to Vietnam as an Airman 1st Class. (leonardmatlovich.com)

His supervisors called him “dedicated, sincere, and responsible,” and “absolutely superior in every respect.”

Matlovich received  a Purple Heart while clearing mines near Da Nang. He was blown up by a mine and as he lay there in pain he realized the physical pain was not nearly as bad as the pain he felt for hiding who he truly was.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Leonard Matlovich recovering from his wounds in a Vietnam field hospital.

That’s when he decided to challenge the Air Force policy on homosexuals in the service. By 1975 Matlovich was up for a discharge based on his sexuality. He lawyered up and was determined to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court. It caught the media’s attention and Matlovich became the first openly-gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. magazine.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

The Air Force decided to let him stay if he signed a document saying he’d never engage in homosexual acts again. Matlovich refused.

He was going to be drummed out of the Air Force under a General Discharge. It was upgraded to Honorable by the Secretary of the Air Force, based on Matlovich’s service record, but that didn’t stop the Tech Sergeant.

In 1976, Matlovich and his lawyers took their case to the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. to argue the Air Force policy violated the same constitutional principles that recently won Civil Rights cases for African-Americans and women in the United States.

All it led to was a re-wording of the DoD anti-gay policy.

He fought to stay in the Air Force as an openly-gay man but in the end accepted that the court cases would never stop. He took a cash settlement for his back pay, which he immediately donated to nonprofits who fought for gay rights.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Matlovich with his honorable discharge certificate.

Matlovich spent the rest of his life fighting for equal rights for the LGBT community in the United States. In 1986, he was diagnosed with HIV and began to fight for more attention to HIV/AIDS research. Matlovich was a vocal critic to the Reagan Administration’s response to the outbreak of the disease.

When Leonard Matlovich died of AIDS in 1988, he was buried in Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery. His gravestone doesn’t have his name on it. He wanted it to be a memorial for all homosexual military veterans. It reads:

“A Gay Vietnam Veteran | When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Matlovich’s tombstone in Congressional Cemetery.

Leonard Matlovich’s gravesite has become a pilgrimage site for the LGBT community, especially those serving in the military of United States and other countries.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA’s ‘Borne the Battle’ podcast marks 200 episodes

This 200th episode of Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran Aerial Johnson, better known by her wrestling name “Big Swole,” Aerial shares her time in the military and how she transitioned into civilian life to eventually became a professional wrestler.


Johnson joined the Air Force in 2008 to be a fire truck mechanic. She was stationed at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. On April 3, 2008, on a day she and her family would come to call her “second birthday,” Johnson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after being told she had half an hour to live. She survived a round of emergency surgery and was told that she would never be able to have children or engage in high-impact sports. However, Johnson didn’t let her diagnosis stop her from doing what she wanted to do. When her Crohn’s disease worsened, she had to leave Air Force in 2010 but she didn’t stop to pursue other dreams.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CROHN’S DISEASE

Hull returned to her hometown of Clearwater, Florida, where she started interacting with a local community of professional wrestlers. She became an independent wrestler herself, and after a few years she signed with All Elite Wrestling and has appeared on both AEW Dark and AEW Dynamite.

In this episode, Hull discusses how she overcame the struggles of Crohn’s disease and embraced the lessons she learned in the military to develop the “Swole mentality” of giving everything her all. She is a reminder to people everywhere that with discipline, anything is possible.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Why we need to check on our veterans during social distancing

Content warning: the following article features an open and frank discussion about suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) There’s not a damn thing wrong with asking for a helping hand when you need it most.

Times are rough right now. We’re at the brink of a global pandemic, schools and places of work are closing and people are panic buying things that aren’t usually in short demand. But the factor that is hitting the closest to home for most folks is, well, everyone staying home.


This is what is known at social distancing. It’s an important step in ensuring that the most vulnerable of our population stays away from anyone who may have contracted the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. It’s a drastic measure that’s annoying to most, but it’s going to save lives in the long term. And that’s not something that should ever be understated.

Yet, there’s also an unseen side effect that could potentially harm another group if it’s not handled properly. The disruption of a daily rhythm, potential loss of work and social isolation could impact a vast number of people already fighting through depression and that ever present thought of suicide: veterans.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions lists two determining categories for depression – biological and psychological. Genetics, hormones and neurotransmitters all play their part in making someone more likely to be genetically predisposed to depression but loss, stress and a sense of unfulfillment can hit anyone. At this moment, there’s plenty of that going around.

Even going back a few months before COVID-19 took the world stage, finding a steady paying job wasn’t that easy. Bills can pile up and somehow it feels we’re always just one paycheck above water. But at least some of us had a handful of buddies we could go out to drink with or to see a movie with. Now, it feels like all of that was swept away and we also have to worry if we’ll have enough toilet paper to get through the week.

Right now, many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut drastically. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably working from home without seeing anyone but the ones you live with. You might be kicking yourself in the butt because you didn’t go to the grocery store before it turned into a scene from The Walking Dead. Thankfully, this isn’t the end times and the internet can still connect us while we’re standing more than six feet from anyone.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh3.googleusercontent.com&s=298&h=e86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20&size=980x&c=744452975 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh3.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D298%26h%3De86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20%26size%3D980x%26c%3D744452975%22%7D” expand=1]

Quick sidenote: toilet paper is something that is typically used at a set rate. Unless you’re planning on hiding for months or TPing your neighbor’s place, you don’t need to stockpile TP.

(Photo by Ingrid Cold)

I urge you, please keep in regular touch with anyone you love who’s been hit hard by this social isolation. Chances are they’re not doing so well. Check up on them. Call to see how they’re doing.

Depression is a real disease and the final symptom could be suicide.

This advice goes for everyone but us in the veteran community already had compounding factors before the outbreak. The “22 a day” is still thrown around, albeit those often-cited numbers come from a 2012 study and they’re more accurately at around 17 a day after a much needed cultural shift within our community. That’s still not great; it’s still far above the national average. Often, we’ve been able to find the one ember that kept our flame burning. But for a lot of veterans, that fire could be extinguished with social distancing.

Don’t take this out of its intended context. Social distancing is crucial at this moment. We just need to adjust to the shift in how things are done. Hotlines are still open. The VA Mental Health facilities are still open. And if you’re concerned and feel symptoms of the coronavirus, there are always video conference calls available to connect you with a mental health specialist or doctors.

You are never truly alone.

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For health and safety reasons, the hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. For good reason.

(U.S. Navy photo by Diana Burleson)

I say all of this… because I found myself in that dark place. The part where I wrote about how people are feeling is mostly pulled from what’s going on with myself.

I recently attempted to end my own life. I’ve been fighting through my own depression for some time now and it reached its boiling point. It probably wouldn’t be wise to go into details, but I will share the thought that got my feet back on the ground. It was the thought that no one would ever be able to explain to my cat why I’m never coming home. Make of it what you will, but thoughts like that can help pull you out of an irrational moment.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FgwEPSSrF4w9G4pRrmNBSg3a7ckuLZWxCqEcgWogP08M7FvwoLNO3p56RKsUHxyG-ndIgrX5NudLMw3l_fX_hwLGgRou71D4AXZKzZ4oJHvc8aH8crbhIazUV_4vrIIAN4fzMCB2FkJOkTa7-4g&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh4.googleusercontent.com&s=823&h=e2472f3fc89658bd13bf47b04f1cf74b58c6a71c9946254ae6c2d16a2c1c6e82&size=980x&c=1328651676 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FgwEPSSrF4w9G4pRrmNBSg3a7ckuLZWxCqEcgWogP08M7FvwoLNO3p56RKsUHxyG-ndIgrX5NudLMw3l_fX_hwLGgRou71D4AXZKzZ4oJHvc8aH8crbhIazUV_4vrIIAN4fzMCB2FkJOkTa7-4g%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh4.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D823%26h%3De2472f3fc89658bd13bf47b04f1cf74b58c6a71c9946254ae6c2d16a2c1c6e82%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1328651676%22%7D” expand=1]

I mean, I love my family and friends. But I wouldn’t ever want to hurt this good boy.

(Picture by Eric Milzarski)

It was through the help of my buddy from the Army and my loving wife that I was able to come back. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still in that damn tunnel. I’m now seeing a mental health specialist at the VA regularly and I can honestly say that it was the right choice. No judgement. No negative consequences. And I feel silly for hesitating this long. Just open arms –metaphorically speaking, of course. I kept my six feet of distance and sanitized my hands, because the VA also houses elderly and immuno-vulnerable veterans. And if need be, they’re still doing video calls for anyone feeling any symptoms.

If you know anyone who’s in that dark place, reach out to them. Go in person if you have to, but there’s always the phone. There are always online video games. There’s always a meme you can tag them in. Anything will help. It may not feel like it while we’re self-isolating until things go back to normal, but we are never truly alone.

Articles

Soldiers sue for benefits after non-honorable discharges related to PTSD

Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.


An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.

Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)

Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.

The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.

They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.

Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.

Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)

Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.

“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.

He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.

Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.

Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.

The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.

“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.

The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.

“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.

Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.

Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.

Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.

“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This treatment for wounded warriors is ‘tubular’

After losing his arm and leg in battle, a Hawaiian soldier being treated at the Naval Medical Center San Diego told his doctors that more than anything else, he wanted to surf again.


Navy Seaman Emily Wallace reacts to a moment free from her severe pain during a surf therapy session for Naval Medical Center San Diego patients in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. The medically appointed surf therapy helps her to manage her pain and provides her with a reprieve from chronic pain without medications. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Almost 10 years later, the hospital’s surfing clinic staff has assisted more than 1,500 wounded, ill and injured service members from all service branches in their recovery through surfing.

“I remember at the time, I told him we’re going to go surfing but I had no idea how we’re going to go, with him missing an arm and a leg,” said Betty Michalewicz-Kragh, surf therapy program manager and exercise physiologist with the Health and Wellness department at the medical center, also known as “Balboa.”

Michalewicz-Kragh said she looked for ideas on the internet and eventually called a Brazilian above-the-knee amputee who came to San Diego and assisted Michalewicz-Kragh in training the soldier for five weeks.

The patient started surfing. “And as a result of him going surfing, many other wounded warriors have gone surfing, and it’s been an amazing journey,” she said.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Volunteers attend a briefing for the Naval Medical Center San Diego surf therapy session in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Surf therapy is medically appointed and provides treatment for a host of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Today, adaptive surfing is more mainstream, with its third world championship taking place in December in La Jolla, California. Michalewicz-Kragh said when the clinic first started using surfing therapy, she only thought of the physical benefits, such as the cardio ability and strengthening the posterior muscles.

“We ended up realizing the benefit surfing has for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues,” she added. “It’s been an amazing journey.”

Finding Fitness, Friends

Surfing is like a medication, and all the side effects are good, Michalewicz-Kragh said. “A person may come here to surf but they end up finding a community,” she explained. “The side effects will be that his fitness level will be better, his cardiovascular ability improves, he gets stronger, and he meets a lot of people. The community integration aspect is really important, so there are many benefits to surfing.”

She said patients don’t need to know how to surf before showing up and they can attend the swim clinic beforehand. “Our goal for the patients as they come to the program is to find out how they can make their life better by surfing and to have the ability to surf and become a better surfer,” she said. “You will not be Kelly Slater after six weeks, and not after 12, but you will have the tools to know how to practice and learn how to surf on your own safely and independently.”

Also Read: Adaptive sports camp helps wounded warriors reach new heights

Beach Yoga

Before surfing, patients can also take yoga classes at the beach, thanks to Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, the Navy medical center’s preventive medicine department head.

“I always check with them at the beginning of class as they check in, where they’re hurting, so I can make sure they focus the class on things that will be beneficial to any particular needs they may have and then ask them afterward,” Christensen said. “I’ve had feedback from some patients who say that this is the only thing they’ve found that helps them feel better, and some who say, ‘I hated yoga, but now I love it,’ so that’s encouraging. It’s a great setting. It’s not me; it’s the beach.”

Christensen said programs such as the surfing clinic are important for wounded warriors. “It gives them hope and confidence, which will help them with their depression if they have it,” she said. “It’s giving them hope that they can get better, confidence in their abilities to do so, and then ability and new skills and new talents.”

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Volunteers

The patients can go through the six-week program twice to learn surfing, and those who transition out of the military and stay in the local area can continue with the program. About 50 surfers — retired firefighters, police officers and military, along with the Del Mar lifeguards — volunteer to work with the patients in the surf therapy clinic.

Former Air Force Sgt. Warren James, a Vietnam veteran, has been volunteering for the past two years. “I’m really good at teaching the beginners,” the former avionics technician said. “It’s very rewarding for me, and I can see it’s very effective for the patients.”

James, who repaired radios and radar equipment on F-4, C-130 and C-40 aircraft during his military service, said he enjoys volunteering with service members and fellow veterans. “It’s overwhelming sometimes. They have injuries, and I didn’t really get injured, so I feel for them,” he said. “I saw a lot of bad things, and I don’t say much about it, but it’s really good to be able to talk to somebody else about it. I know how they feel … I didn’t have PTSD, but I can sense when they do, and it’s really comforting to help them and know that it’s helping me, too.”

Volunteers attend a briefing for the Naval Medical Center San Diego surf therapy session in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Surf therapy is medically appointed and provides treatment for a host of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Surfing clinic participants gain confidence as they make progress in the surfing clinic, he said. “If they had a physical injury, they recover quicker,” he added. “They take less medication. It’s just a really good program.”

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Patients’ Opinions

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Toran Gaal, a bilateral amputee who lives in Valley Center, California, said surfing brings him closer to those he lost in combat. He was injured in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2011.

“To be in a place like the ocean, it allows me to be closer to those people and feel like I’m lifted up,” Gaal said. “I feel like I’m around them when I’m out there. I feel like they’re around me, watching over me, making sure I’m safe. The ocean allows me to feel close to them, as well as gain relationships with some of the volunteers to be happy.”

The surfing clinic is about surfing and reintegration into the community, Gaal said. “It’s not just about gaining independence and going out and surfing. It’s about reintegration and transitioning,” he said.

Gaal said he and his wife, Lisa, have become friends and family with Bob Bishop, one of the volunteers, with whom they have regular lunches at Bishop’s home.

Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

“It’s just a sense of family for me, and my wife knows that. She knows that when I’m around these people, I come back happier because I enjoy being in their presence and the negativity is not there. They’re all positive influences,” Gaal said.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Volunteer Brianna Phillip helps Navy Seaman Emily Wallace, left, walk into the surf to meet her instructo,r Necia Snow, right, during a surf therapy session for Naval Medical Center San Diego patients in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Wallace suffers from an illness that causes severe pain, and the medically appointed surf therapy helps to manage her pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Marine Corps Cpl. Leighton Anderson, a Gardena, California, native who was injured during an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crash in 2016, said he enjoys the surfing clinic as well.

“I always wanted to learn how to surf, since I’m from California,” Anderson said. “I tried it three times in my life and never did it. I was like, ‘Let me try it through here,’ and then after that, I was hooked. It was pretty sweet. I love it. Everybody’s really nice and supportive.”

Anderson said surfing helps him physically and mentally.

“I had so many barriers, because once I was injured, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. I might hurt myself.’ I have a little PTSD, and I didn’t think I would enjoy anything. Once I tried it, I broke down a lot of barriers I had mentally and physically. I had weak tendons in my hand and foot, but with surfing they’re starting to get better. And mentally, it makes me happy. It’s just something everybody should take on.”

“Surfing therapy is amazing,” James said. “The program works, because it keeps them not thinking what they would normally would be thinking when they’re at a medical appointment. But here, we just talk about other things, and that’s why it works.

“It’s different,” he added. “I definitely suggest getting in the water, even if you have no experience at all. Just come to the beach.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

How troops and vets can get free Tampa Bay Rays tickets

Tampa Bay, Florida is an important part of our country’s great defense strategy. It’s not always a highly visible part, but it’s an effective part.


Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
You might have heard of it at some point.

But whether you’re stationed in Tampa Bay, got out of the military in Tampa Bay, or just happen to be passing through Tampa Bay, the local baseball team wants you to stop by. So much so that the Tampa Bay Rays are giving away free tickets to active duty troops, retirees, and honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Yes Coasties, this means you, too. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A lot of organizations have a salute to service program, but the Tampa Bay Rays are offering something special. You can pick up two complimentary tickets to any of seven Monday home games, with three possible additional bonus dates and special ticket offers throughout the season.

In case Tampa Bay isn’t your home team to root for, the possible games are with teams from around the country, from Cleveland to Los Angeles and Baltimore to Texas. Just go to the Rays Salute to Service game listings and pick them one week before the scheduled game date.

If you’re the forgetful type, you can have the site notify you when the tickets become available. So if you’re stationed in the area and want to come root for home team or are planning a trip through the area and want to have truly unique Tampa Bay experience with a friend or loved one, the Tampa Bay Rays will love to host you.

The Rays are one of Major League Baseball’s most fun teams – after all, this is the team that set their batting order to 8-6-7-5-3-0-9, for funsies one time. They didn’t win the game that night, but a lot of people learned how numbers are assigned to baseball’s defensive positions, and Tommy Tutone got stuck in every one’s head one more time.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Now it’s in my head. And yours too. Admit it.

This isn’t the first time the Rays offered free tickets to the military-veteran community. The team has been offering them for years, and also offers free tickets for first responders and teachers (but they get honored on different days, of course).

So grab a few seats, a cold one, and some peanuts and make a trip to the old ball game. Go Rays!

MIGHTY BRANDED

What Comcast does for veterans and the military will surprise you

Everyone loves a good deal, and military veterans are no different. Plus, cable is expensive these days. So for veterans and the military, Comcast offers a $100 prepaid card back to its vet customers, along with a $25 Xfinity coupon. For a lot of companies, the discount would be as far as it needed to go. But the love Comcast has for vets is real – after all, the company was founded by a World War II-era Navy veteran.


Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

Navy veteran and Comcast founder Ralph J. Roberts.

In the early 1960s, Navy vet Ralph J. Roberts purchased a Mississippi-based 1,200-subscriber cable company with his two business partners. The World War II veteran had come a long way from selling golf clubs and suspenders. He first became interested in the proliferation of TV broadcasting after using the proceeds of his suspenders business to buy over-the-air TV antennas which broadcast television to rural areas. Roberts eventually grew what started as a half-million-dollar investment into America’s largest cable company, Comcast.

These days, Comcast still remembers its founder’s Navy roots. The company is actively working to provide internet access to low-income veterans, hire a record number of veterans and their spouses in all areas of its operations, and support veteran-related initiatives in many, many areas.

In 2015, Comcast vowed to hire 21,000 members of the military-veteran community by 2021. This includes the spouses of servicemembers and veterans of all eras, not just the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their dedication extends to members of the reserve and the National Guard, who, as Comcast employees, get more benefits when activated than what the laws of the United States demand. Comcast, while acknowledging it can’t hire every veteran, also helps other companies to hire more – by teaching them how to hire more vets.

The cable provider funds the Veterans at Work Certificate Program, a certification program for human resources professionals that teaches hiring managers why veterans make better employees and instructs them on how to find vets that fit their needs, all at no cost.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

To further help veterans find work, Comcast has invested in bridging a digital divide by provide low-income veteran households with high-speed internet access, along with providing more than 100,000 home computers, and providing digital skills training to ensure their beneficiaries can properly utilize both. Since 2011, more than eight million people have benefitted from the generosity of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program and a further 9.5 million people have been reached through Comcast’s literacy training efforts.

But Comcast doesn’t stop there. While Comcast works in the world of digital internet and television, there are many, many areas where it doesn’t have a beachhead. To serve those areas, the company provides funding for special, military-related nonprofits to reach it for them. Since 2001, Comcast has given million in cash and in-kind donations to more than 265 veterans organizations whose missions are essential to the wellbeing and increased livelihoods of the military-veteran community.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

The Military Influencer Conference brings veteran-oriented organizations together.

One of those organizations is the Military Influencer Conference, an annual event that brings together important and emerging entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. the three-day conference focuses on delivering actionable insights from the stories of others and fostering an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets are motivated to forge legitimate relationships through conversation that lead to powerful collaborations.

For more information on the Military Influencer Conference, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com. To learn more about Comcast’s initiatives for veterans, visit its corporate page.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Vietnam War veterans will be honored at the World Series

On behalf of the upcoming film Last Flag Flying, Amazon Studios partnered with We Are The Mighty to donate two World Series tickets to a lucky veteran in the Los Angeles area.


When Army veteran Greg Alaimo was told he’d won tickets to the World Series, he couldn’t believe it. “You won’t believe it either!” he told We Are The Mighty.

Alaimo, a Vietnam War veteran and Bronze Medal recipient, had assisted the Los Angeles Dodgers in finding recommendations for Vietnam War veterans for their Hero Of The Game. After Alaimo received the final list (which includes men like Medal of Honor recipient Ray Vargas and Charlie Plumb, who was a POW for 6 years during the war), he realized he wanted to meet the men on it.

“The heroes they chose are amazing. I called my contact and thanked him for allowing me to participate. I then asked if I could purchase two tickets. He regretfully indicated no tickets were available. I wanted to visit with those chosen for this is the first time the Dodgers have honored Vietnam veterans at a World Series.”

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Alaimo and his unit Bravo 1-7 on stand down in Bien Hoa, home of the First Infantry Division, The Big Red One, just below Saigon. (Photo courtesy of Greg Alaimo)

That’s when Amazon teamed up with We Are The Mighty to give out another set of tickets.

“When I was contacted about winning the tickets I thought it was a joke. I’m holding two great tickets for [Game Two] and I’ll meet those representing all Vietnam Vets — amazing.”

They’re not the only “amazing” ones. Alaimo has an impressive service history himself — during Active Duty and beyond. After fighting in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division, Alaimo returned home and became “the go-to guy” if veterans need help. A member of American Legion Hollywood Post 43, Alaimo says it’s important for him to connect with the veteran community because he doesn’t want them to be treated the way he was after he returned from Vietnam.

“They need to know we respect them and are grateful for their sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of their families.”

Alaimo will be taking his good friend, and fellow veteran advocate, Charlie Cusumano with him to the game. We asked who they’ll be rooting for:

“Duh????? Go Blue! DODGERS!!!!!”
Articles

Harley Davidson offers members of military free riding academy training

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans
Image: Harley Davidson


Harley-Davidson, long a big supporter of U.S. veterans, announced that it is extending free training at its riding academy through next year for members of the military.

The program is now available to active-duty, retired, reservists and veterans. The free training was first offered earlier this year prior to Armed Forces Day aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston, S.C.

Related: Dining deals for veterans and active military on Veteran’s Day

“Thousands of members of the military have learned to ride through the program so far,” Christian Walters, Harley Davidson’s managing director and an Army Special Operations Aviation officer, said in a statement this month. “We’re proud to extend this opportunity in 2016 so even more military personnel can enjoy the very freedom they protect.”

Never ridden before? No problem. As the company says “Great riders aren’t born. They’re made.”

The New Rider Course is designed to get newbies comfortable on a bike and ensure they have got the skills to get the license and start riding. The course features Harley-Davidson certified coaches who will provide expert guidance.

Related: Healthy Mouth Movement: Helping Veterans with Dental Care

There are two primary components: classroom and on the range. The classroom section focus on rider safety skills basics and getting familiar with the motorcycle you will be riding.

At the practice range, skills like braking, turning, controlling skids and tackling obstacles are learned and practiced.

Completing the course in some states means you don’t have to take the riding portion of the motorcycle license test. With some insurance, it can also mean a discount.

All members of the military who are stateside can take advantage of the offer by visiting a local Harley-Davidson dealer or going to h-d.com/AmericanHeroes.

Related: Homeless veterans: Let’s give our vets the homes, dignity and respect they deserve

If a riding academy is not available in your particular area, then you can attend another certified motorcycle safety program and Harley-Davidson will reimburse you.

Deployed outside the US? Not a problem. If you’re currently abroad, then submit the form by December 31, 2016. The company will send you a voucher for free motorcycle safety training that can be used when you return home. It will be good through 2017.

The free training is part of the company’s wide ranging support for veterans. To date, Harley-Davidson has donated more than $1 million to support those who serve through fundraising initiatives, the Harley-Davidson Foundation and the Operation Personal Freedom MotorClothes collection.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Montel Williams seeks veterans for home makeovers

Saying thank you for your service is not enough, according to veteran and talk show icon Montel Williams. But he does have a few ideas on other ways to show gratitude for military service.

He’s teamed up with WWE to find the next veteran for a home makeover that will be featured on Lifetime TV’s “Military Makeover with Montel.”


“We take these veterans and we literally make their home over from top to bottom,” Williams said during a phone interview. “We do, not just a facelift, but everything, from the floors, the ceilings to you name it, to make sure the veteran has what we call a forever home once we get done.”

Since 2015 the show has worked with one veteran family per quarter to makeover their home within 10 days, with 20 homes completed to date. Most episodes, Williams said, have featured families who have been in the midst of transitioning from military to civilian life. A few have featured veterans who have already left the military, but Williams adds any deserving veteran family will be considered as long as they own their own home.

He’s personally been involved in making over six homes, having taken over the show after the death of Military Makeover’s previous host Lee Ermey.

Williams said the reactions on the show have been great, not just from the service members, but from everyone in the community. The show uses volunteers and donations from local vendors to renovate the homes.

“Everybody is uplifted,” Williams said.

Hosting a home makeover show is also a good way to show appreciation for a group Williams describes as underappreciated.

“I think it’s a really good way to do more than say ‘thank you for your service,'” Williams said.

Williams is a 22-year veteran who served in the Marine Corps and Navy before starting his television career. Like many veterans, he’s come to see the phrase ‘thank you for your service’ as hollow and meaningless.

“I’ve been saying this for over a year. When people say ‘thank you for your service’ it’s lip service or a passing phrase, like you say ‘good morning’ to people when you walk by and don’t even wait for a person’s response,” he said.

In addition to his own service, Williams is a longtime veterans’ advocate. He serves on the board of directors for the Fisher House — a charity providing lodging near DOD and VA facilities for the families of those receiving care. He also works with an organization that help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and has an upcoming project designed for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Virtual reality technology brings joy and peace to veterans

Williams launched a new national campaign to makeover the home of a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Military Families Magazine.)

Williams said he believes the current coronavirus pandemic has put showing genuine gratitude to veterans even further from the forefront of people’s minds.

“Right now, while we’re suffering through this COVID-19 pandemic, every day of the week people applaud our first responders. When they think about people on the frontline, they think about doctors, nurses and first responders to this virus here on U.S. soil,” Williams said. “We have ships and submarines and aircraft carriers and airplanes and deployed forward bases where people don’t have the same luxury of being able to social distance. These guys are out there every single day putting their lives on the line for us.”

While not everyone has the resources of a television legend, Williams insists there are things average people can do to show their appreciation to veterans.

“You don’t have to makeover a veteran’s home to contribute to a veteran’s life,” Williams said. He said providing meals, volunteering to babysit or mowing an injured veteran’s lawn are great ways for people to show their appreciation.

“Why not go out and do a gesture, not just of being a good neighbor, but deliberately doing something to help out our veterans?” Williams asked. “Remember that there’s a military family on every block in every community across this country. Reach out and do a little bit more than just say ‘thank you for your service.'”

Another way people can show appreciation is by going to Tag A Hero and nominating a veteran for a home makeover before May 31.

Williams has joined forces with WWE star Lacey Evans, a Marine veteran, to gain awareness for the new national campaign, but they are in need of more nominations.

“Lacey Evans, who is one of their stars, has become one of our team members on Military Makeover. She convinced [WWE] to reach out to their viewers to nominate veterans in their community,” Williams said.

The application submission deadline for the latest campaign is May 31st. On July 13, Montel Williams and WWE Superstar Lacey Evans will appear on Facebook and Instagram announcing the home makeover recipient.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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