Veteran eXpeRience Brings a New Reality to Veterans

On December 15, the Veteran Health Administration’s (VHA) Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning (OHIL) hosted the first-ever Veteran Experience at the SimVET National Center for Validation, Evaluation and Testing (SimVET) in Orlando, Florida. At the event, more than 40 veterans experienced how the VA is using augmented reality (XR) to transform care delivery for veterans and overall health care.

The first-of-its-kind event was designed to provide veterans with a personal and hands-on experience to help raise awareness of how virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and other immersive technologies can impact physical, emotional and mental health . As veterans arrived throughout the day, the OHIL VA Immersive team and a number of VHA XR enthusiasts and staff from the Orlando VA Medical Center and OHIL’s Simulation Learning, Evaluation, Assessment and Research Network (SimLEARN) helped guide each of them through various XR demonstrations and experiences.

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For each experience, veterans were helped to don a VR headset to understand in real time how the immersive technology could be used in a variety of settings and indications, such as pain management, mental health support, physical and physiological assessment, recreation. therapy and more.

Veteran eXpeRience Female Veteran using VR“You’re so involved. [the experience], it’s almost like therapy,” said Army veteran Gilberto Vallejo, who attended the event. “You will completely forget your pain. Because now you are in a virtual reality system playing a game and you want to keep improving. You don’t realize you’re using it for therapy.”

It is often difficult to put into words just how XR has such an impact, which presents a challenge to help staff, leaders, carers and veterans overcome assumptions and skepticism about the technology that has arisen in the gaming world; however, by allowing veterans to put their “heads in the headphones,” the Veteran eXpeRience provided an opportunity to see and feel the impact.

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Veteran eXpeRience is nationwide

Veteran eXpeRience man Veteran using VR.While December’s Veteran eXpeRience took place in Florida, the VA’s immersive technology efforts have a nationwide impact as the VA Immersive team continues to expand its presence and support throughout the VA system. More than 1,000 veterans now use XR in their VA health care journeys.

In addition, more facilities and providers are incorporating XR into routine care delivery and the impact is being realized in a meaningful way. For example, at one facility—the Western North Carolina Health System—VR has been used with veterans in more than 500 sessions. 69 percent of veterans who used VR for pain management experienced a reduction in the intensity of acute and/or chronic pain. Almost all veterans who used VR for anxiety or boredom reported a reduction in anxiety levels or a distraction from boredom.

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As XR and other immersive technologies continue to spread across the VA, and as more Veterans engage with XR in their VA facilities, Veterans health care will continue to transform. Talk to your care provider about XR options at your facility or contact the VA Immersive team at [email protected] to stay tuned for future opportunities to attend a Veteran eXpeRience in your area.

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