SoldierStrong is honored to be a part of the PREVENTS Task Force Roadmap. Watch this video to learn more about the PREVENTS Task Force Roadmap and the impact the program will have on American veterans across the nation.
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It’s often said that “not all wounds are visible.” This month offers the prime opportunity to reflect on that sentiment and conceptualize how we can ensure that even though some wounds may not be visible, they are still treated like those wounds that are. I believe this starts with the way in which we talk about and offer treatment for PTS.
There is an abundance of research and data about the presence of post-traumatic stress in veterans that is worth sharing and reflecting on. This month I encourage everyone to take the time to educate themselves on the subject and to review the research that is available in order to gain a better understanding. But for the sake of brevity, I will share one statistic here that in particular impacts and informs the work we do at SoldierStrong.
Between 11 and 20 veterans out of 100 who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom experience symptoms of PTS in a calendar year.
SoldierStrong is working diligently to provide those veterans grappling with PTS another tool to aid in their journey of recovery through the StrongMind program. In recognition of PTS Awareness Month, I wanted to shine a light this month on the service that StrongMind provides.
StrongMind helps veterans recovering from PTS using virtual reality therapy. Virtual reality can be used to deliver prolonged exposure therapy – the practice of recalling a traumatic memory while talking through the nuances of that memory with a therapist – an evidence-based method for treating PTS. Virtual reality therapy makes the process of recalling traumatic memories easier for veterans.
To date, the StrongMind hardware and software has been donated to 13 VA Hospitals and other medical centers across the country, allowing a tremendous number of veterans access to revolutionary PTS treatment.
Even if you are not a veteran, have never experienced PTS yourself or do not know anyone who has experienced PTS, I implore everyone to take a pledge this month to raise awareness about the effects and impacts of PTS on veterans. In addition, I think it is just as important to raise awareness about resources that are effective in treating PTS. This can be done by letting those in your life know about the StrongMind program and any other effective PTS treatments you are aware of to help build and establish a greater awareness of treatment options.
The greater level of awareness that we are able to build, the more likely Americans will recognize important symptoms of PTS and the more likely veterans will reach out to receive the treatment they need.
Learn more about the StrongMind program today.
As you know, in recent weeks we have seen social distancing become the new norm, as many of us find ourselves in quarantine or under strict shelter-in-place orders. The ways in which so many of our lives have drastically changed have left many with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and restlessness.
At a time when we are all worried about our own families – and rightfully so – I want to remind everyone that we must also remember to reach out to those who may need it most. This includes our veteran population, particularly those already suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other mental health conditions.
The feelings of loneliness and isolation, which a number of Americans may be experiencing for the first time in their lives at such heightened levels, are unfortunately all too familiar for many of our veterans living with PTS. With the onset of COVID-19 and the precautions that we all must take in order to stay safe, these feelings of loneliness and isolation have the potential to become elevated to new extremes.
Please consider the reality that our country’s veterans are already facing:
- The veteran suicide rate is 1.5 times the national average
- An average of 20 veteran suicides occur daily
- About 70% of veterans who take their lives did not receive mental health services available at VA Hospitals
My intent in sharing these statistics is not to be negative or pessimistic. Quite the opposite. I hope sharing these statistics with you will help paint a more complete picture and incite a sense of urgency regarding what is at stake for many of our country’s veterans. I am optimistic that sharing this information will encourage others to reach out to veterans in need and possibly even provide a much-needed sense of comfort during these difficult times.
Here are just a few ways that you can reach out to veterans who may be struggling:
- Call or video chat to check-in to see how they are feeling. Social media and email are other great ways to reach out. If all else fails, write an old-fashioned letter and even include photographs and artwork to let someone know you are thinking of them.
- If your state’s guidelines allow and it is safe to do so, visit someone from outside their window or even on their front lawn or driveway while maintaining appropriate social distance. Spend time talking with them to check-in on their wellbeing.
- Based on your state’s recommended guidelines, if you are able, make yourself an available resource beyond just being there to talk – volunteer to pick-up groceries, medication & medical supplies; mow the lawn, retrieve mail etc.
- If you are in a state that still allows leaving the house for reasons other than just picking up groceries and medications, offer to take a walk on a nature trail while maintaining six feet apart and use the time to touch base to see how the other person is doing.
The bottom line is, it’s important that we are checking-in on those veterans already struggling with PTS and other mental health conditions, while observing safety measures to ensure that we all remain physically healthy. Checking-in on our veterans to lend a listening ear or a helping hand today could very well impact the way the statistics above look tomorrow.
SoldierStrong, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing revolutionary medical technologies to help injured veterans lead full lives, today announced a year-long partnership with Honor and Respect to benefit veterans throughout the country living with post-traumatic stress.
Honor and Respect is a Marion, Iowa, firm launched in 2018 by U.S. Air Force veteran Ron Slagle and his family to raise funds to aid first responders and military personnel, who “devote their lives to helping all of us” and are caught in the midst of the mental health crisis through the sale of one-of-a-kind athletic shoes. Slagle said Honor and Respect will donate a share of its proceeds from every purchase of its shoes to SoldierStrong’s StrongMind initiative, which seeks to reduce the disturbingly high national average of 20 veteran suicides a day. Through the partnership, SoldierStrong will receive $10 of every purchase of Honor and Respect’s shoes.
“I believe it is all of our responsibility to offer help to those who have dedicated their lives to helping all of us, either through service in the military or as first responders,” said Slagle, a Marion police officer. “Those experiencing PTS should not have to live through their symptoms alone and aside from honoring all of those who have served, we must also make sure that the very best in treatment is available to those who may need it. I feel empowered to be partnering with SoldierStrong in an effort to further guarantee that appropriate PTS treatment is widely and readily available.”
The StrongMind initiative donates virtual reality systems to Veterans Administration medical centers across the country to assist in treating veterans experiencing PTS. The StrongMind initiative has donated 14 VR software and hardware systems to the VA since September.
“Honor and Respect is a remarkable demonstration of patriotism and compassion by an outstanding family from America’s heartland. SoldierStrong is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Honor and Respect as we work both to ensure that those who have served our nation are provided the resources they need to help them take their next steps forward into life after service,” said Chris Meek, SoldierStrong co-founder and chairman. “The Slagle family’s desire to donate a share of Honor and Respect’s proceeds to SoldierStrong will provide direct care for veterans coping with the effects of post-traumatic stress.”
He continued, “It’s important that all revolutionary technologies to treat PTS are available to any and all veterans who might benefit from these services. That’s why it is SoldierStrong’s mission to get the StrongMind program into as many VA Hospitals as possible, so that the greatest number of veterans can have access and the chance to benefit from the effective technology in an effort to relieve their PTS symptoms.”
BY DAN BOREN AND CHRIS MEEK
As important as it is on this Veterans Day to thank those brave men and women who selflessly served in defense of our freedom and liberties, our obligation does not and must not end there.
Much attention has been placed on the backlog and wait times for veterans seeking Department of Veterans Administration care. But we should also recognize that the VA cannot care for our veterans alone; we all have a calling to serve.
Today, there is a mental health crisis in the active duty and veteran communities. While there have been valiant efforts to address the veteran suicide crisis since the 1980s, an average of 20 American veterans are lost to suicide every day.
We’ve lost more Vietnam-era veterans to suicide than there are names on the Vietnam Wall. The generation of post-9/11 veterans is on track to reach the same grim milestone if we fail to find a solution to un-remediated post-traumatic stress, which one study identified as the single most common underlying factor among veterans who consider or attempt suicide.
Fortunately, solutions are emerging that will deliver significant treatment advances while simultaneously overcoming barriers common to younger military personnel. One groundbreaking approach uses virtual reality technology in a clinical setting. It is the result of a collaboration, called The StrongMind Alliance, between four major universities, multiple federal agencies and SoldierStrong, a nonprofit organization that provides revolutionary medical devices and treatments to America’s wounded veterans.
The system’s research, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense, offers 14 “worlds” that recreate a range of combat scenarios that can be customized by doctors and clinicians working with patients dealing with PTS.
This summer, SoldierStrong pledged to donate 10 virtual reality systems to VA medical centers across the country. Working in concert with the VA’s Innovation Network, SoldierStrong has already delivered the first nine StrongMind VR Protocol packages. It will be instructive to see how this promising technology changes lives.
While post-traumatic stress has been with us since ancient times, there are genuine reasons to believe that American innovation and ingenuity can finally relegate it to the history books. We can make a life-changing difference for injured veterans in other ways, too. The first is by encouraging our elected leaders to invest more in our veterans, particularly through innovation and revolutionary technology.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) was founded in 1958 to “make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.” DARPA researchers are the inventors of things like the internet, the global positioning system and many other transformational scientific advances.
DARPA spent more than $3.1 billion in 2018 to make the world a safer place and protect our service personnel while making them more lethal to those who threaten our security. Yet, its commitment to scientific advancement ends when our military personnel return home and often when they need it most.
DARPA researchers have already created battlefield technology that was the basis for an exoskeleton that allows paralyzed people to stand and walk again. They’ve developed technology that allows prosthetic arms to replicate the full range of mobility of “original equipment.” The list of scientific achievements that could help our veterans is long, but there is no DARPA for veterans.
There’s a tremendous opportunity, even in these hyper-partisan times, for Congress and the administration to mobilize DARPA’s resources to help our veterans. It’s an investment that would pay huge dividends in their productivity, well-being, and human dignity.
The second way we can all make a difference is by becoming more involved in our communities. We can all become more involved in bettering the lives of wounded veterans. We can lift them up by volunteering with organizations dedicated to this mission, lending a helping hands as friends and neighbors and, especially, by speaking up to our elected leaders.
In Oklahoma and across the nation, organizations and individuals are doing their part to give back to those who gave so much to serve our nation because they know veterans should be honored not just on this special day, but every day. We encourage everyone to follow in their footsteps.
Boren represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District from 2005-2013 and serves on the advisory board of SoldierStrong. Meek is co-founder of SoldierStrong. He can be reached at email@example.com.