Virtual Reality ´War´ Helps
Treat Traumatised Troops
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
The Independent - UK
The Pentagon has spent $4m (£2.1m) to create virtual reality "video games" that simulate combat situations in Iraq, to help treat traumatised soldiers on their return to the US.
Thousands of the troops are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As part of the scheme, military doctors will measure their reaction to the combat simulation through heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing rate and skin temperature.
Doctors hope the data will help them better diagnose PTSD and suggest appropriate treatment. They also hope the project, which took three years to develop at the San Diego Naval Medical Centre in California, will have civilian uses.
Dr James Spira, a staff psychologist at the centre, said that monitoring troops´ reactions could help them gain a better control over their behaviour in certain situations. "The virtual reality environment is clearly not the same as being there," he said. "We don´t want it to be the same as being there. We want it to be semi-realistic. We want it to be enough to trigger the thoughts and feelings so they can control those."
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine said nearly 17 per cent of all US troops returning from Iraq had reported mental illness of some type relating to combat. Officials said there had been an increase in broken marriages, car accidents, fights, and alcohol or drug abuse. Many troops report problems dealing with their anger and frustration on return to a non-combat environment.
In addition to the visual simulations, troops taking part in the project wear headphones into which the sound of American military helicopters is played, along with that of sniper fire and mortar rounds.
©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
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