Virtual world aims to help soldiers battling PTSD

Virtual world aims to help soldiers battling PTSD
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD -- Troops who don't want to appear weak, unreliable, or crazy to their commanders or peers often hide their symptoms of post traumatic stress.

"I have seen too many warriors who came home from deployment and silently suffer for years before they get help," said psychologist Dr. Greg Reger.

But this week the military has a new virtual weapon to combat the problems that haunt soldiers long after the battle is over.

The Department of Defense launched a virtual space where avatars attack stigmas attached to post traumatic stress disorder.

The game tells the soldier, "Getting information and help doesn't make you less of a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine."

The creators hope people suffering hidden war wounds will feel safe anonymously navigating this virtual space, learning about symptoms they're too ashamed to share.

Kelly Barber's husband committed suicide at Madigan Army Medical Center just months after doctors diagnosed him with PTSD.

"Josh struggled with the fact that he killed people in Iraq," she said. "All he could remember was smelling death all the time."

When tech-savvy warriors immerse themselves in the interactive simulation of the game, they can discover which everyday actions or sights might trigger their anxieties.

"Someone who has been in a crowded market where life was at risk might not like being in crowded situations such as a shopping mall," said Reger.

And the game's online users can interact with each other so they feel less isolated.

"It helps to talk to somebody going through same thing and by learning (one is) not crazy or broken," said psychologist Kevin Holloway.

This isn't therapy, but it is one step closer to a cure.

The free site is open to the public and could be useful for the relatives and friends of veterans as well.

"Every journey starts with one step," the game states. "Hope you take that step with us."