Ottawa turns to virtual reality to help treat veterans with PTSD
Corinne Ton That, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:08PM EDT
Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan has ended, but for many war veterans, the haunting memories can linger for years. That’s why the Canadian military is testing a new, high-tech therapy to help treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The virtual-reality software, developed for the U.S. military, re-creates the war in a controlled environment, with therapists hoping it will unlock traumatic memories and allow the healing process to begin.
“If PTSD is so difficult, it’s because people are constantly reliving these horrific scenes in a lot of vivid detail,” social worker Marianne Vincent told CTV News.
Ottawa recently bought two of the programs, at a cost of $17,000 each. And while many details on uniforms and equipment still need to be Canadianized, therapists say it could help thousands of veterans suffering in silence.
“We try to re-immerse (soldiers) in the traumatic event that they lived through,” said Vincent. “This allows them to face it, stop avoiding the memories, and process them.”
For MCpl. Neil Macey, who served as a medic in Kandahar, the program takes his mind right back to the warzone.
After strapping on a visor on his head, Macey is taken inside a first-person shooter video game. The platform he stands on shakes during a virtual explosion, and moving images are shown in all directions with sounds of helicopters, screams and sirens in the distance.
“Where’s your anxiety level right now?” asks Vincent, as she takes Macey through the experience.
“It’s higher, especially seeing people on the ground now. I’m quite anxious. My heart rate’s up, and I feel on edge for sure,” Macey responds.
A canister in the room then releases smells of diesel fuel, burning tires and gunfire.
“I still, to this day, remember a lot of the smells from Kandahar City,” said Macey.
In recent months, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) has been harshly criticized for its treatment of ill and injured veterans. There has been a string of soldier suicides in the past year, including three Afghan veterans who took their lives in the span of one week last November.
With files from CTV News’ Richard Madan