As I look out my window across the fields, I see the lone road winding its way down the hill and past my house off into the evaporating distance. No cars pass and haven’t passed for a good hour and the gloom of evening is beginning to descend. This has been my view now for several months and often feels emblematic of the feelings of isolation and claustrophobia that being trapped inside by the pandemic can bring.
Now, perhaps more than ever, we have come to appreciate modern technology in our struggle to stay connected with the world. Amid a global pandemic, human contact has become increasingly difficult to find, within a world separated by face masks, social distancing, and capacity limits, seeing a familiar face for a good old-fashioned chat can feel like a thing of the past. However, the rise of communication technologies such as Zoom, allowing us to call or video chat with friends and loved ones, has become part of everyday life for many, providing the electronic equivalent of a warm embrace and a reminder of the light at the end of the tunnel.
For Veterans, the ability to be able to reach out to others is crucial, and mobile technologies can play a huge part in making this possible. While apps such as FaceTime or Zoom provide a noble service, there are apps that allow Veterans to directly communicate with other Veterans, enabling vets to meet and socialize with others with shared experiences, allowing them to feel more comfortable. ObjectiveZero, https://www.objectivezero.org/, is a free app, developed by two Veterans Justin Miller and Chris Mercado, that allows Vets across the US to seek out other Vets and either receive help or provide support to others.
If you are a veteran looking for some support you can sign up and view various ambassadors who have served in the military and select who you would like to get in touch with, either by text, call or video chat. It is even possible to filter who you would like to speak with by options such as: Branch of Service, Campaigns Served, Distance, or Gender among other options. On the other hand, Veterans can sign up as ambassadors and make themselves available to provide help and support to Veterans seeking it. Proving to be a success already, the app has already received over 1000 downloads in the US and more than 16000 messages and 350 hours of phone calls of support have been completed already. Furthermore, the app offers anonymity, which can be important for Veterans. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), military workers repeatedly list fear of embarrassment and letting down other comrades as pressures in hiding symptoms of mental health deterioration, meaning that the anonymity offered by the app can help Veterans overcome the stigma of discussing their mental health.
ObjectiveZero is just one of many recently developed apps designed to help our Veterans. Perhaps the most established Veteran-specific app is PTSD Coach, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/ptsdcoach_app.asp.
Launched in 2011 as the VA’s first mobile app for Vets, it specializes in providing help and support to Veterans suffering from PTSD.
As of 2020, the app has received over 500,000 downloads in more than 115 different countries and is available free of charge. The app features an easy-to-use interface that is split into 4 sections: Manage Symptoms, Track Progress, Learn, and Get Support.
- The Manage Symptoms area allows the user to find coping methods for when they are feeling stressed or upset with features such as mindfulness tools, muscle relaxation, and sleep tools.
- Track Progress allows the user to take a short assessment on their PTSD symptoms and it will provide personalized feedback and allows one to track their progress over time.
- Learn features resources that allow the user to understand more about PTSD and contains answers to frequently asked questions, it also enables the user to find a local care provider/treatment facility.
- Get Support can help the user create their own support network by providing important contact lines for crises, search for mental health services nearby, and tips on how to reach out to people you trust.
A trial carried out in 2014, surveying 45 Veterans receiving PTSD treatment, found there was 90% positive feedback about the impact of PTSD Coach alongside their treatment, highlighting the positive impact mobile technologies can have for our Veterans.
Specifically, for the unprecedented times, we are currently experiencing, the VA has also launched a recent app for Vets called Covid Coach, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/COVID_coach_app.asp, designed to help Veterans cope with the pressures caused by the pandemic. This app is not specifically aimed at those with PTSD, but rather for all Veterans who are finding the pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health, offering advice on self-care and coping methods, and how to combat loneliness in such a hard time and allows the user to connect with others safely.
Other useful apps that are also available for free include PE Coach (Prolonged Exposure Coach), https://mobile.va.gov/app/pe-coach, another mHealth app developed by the VA. PE Coach allows a Veteran who is receiving treatment for Prolonged Exposure to collaborate with their therapist through the app, using it to help deliver EBT (Evidence Based Treatment) by carrying out exercises assigned to the patient by the therapist remotely and measuring PTSD symptom change. A survey by VA mental health clinicians in 2014 found positive results in their perceptions of the app about its advantages, compatibility with care, and the complexity of the app.
In a time where seeking out in person help is a difficult task, technology can play an important part in providing human contact and assistance in Veterans’ lives. The selection of apps earmarked in this article can help provide social contact for Veterans, help them with practicing self-help methods, record their symptoms and emotions in order to keep track of them, and improve the success of professional therapy. Despite this, it is still very important to remember that these apps should not be relied upon as a replacement for medical assistance, but rather as a supplement to medical care.
Visit Know A Vet? for a list of resources for a wide range of issues and resources by zip code. Your local VSO can help connect you to other veteran or civilian organizations. To find your local VSO visit Know A Vet? and put your zip code in the box toward the top of the home page for your local Federal, State and County resources.
Watch for future articles from Know A Vet? that will discuss other ways technology can improve the lives of Veterans and their families.
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Morland, L. A., Ruzek, J. I., & Rosen, C. S. (2015). Technology and PTSD care: An update. PTSD Research Quarterly, 26(2), 1-10. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/technology-ptsd-care-update/docview/1700956134/se-2?accountid=28179
Institute of Medicine. (2013). Returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Assessment of readjustment needs of veterans, service members, and their families. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.