'Video Games' Used To Treat Traumatised Soldiers
22.04.05 1.20pmBy Andrew Buncombe
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has spent US$4m to create virtual reality "video games" that simulate combat situations in Iraq, to help treat traumatised soldiers on their return to the US. The project has been created to help treat the thousands of troops returning from tours of duty suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSS). As part of the scheme, military doctors will measure troops' reaction to the combat simulation through their heart beat, blood pressure, breathing rate and skin temperature. Doctors hope that by compiling this data they will able to better diagnose PTSS and suggest a course of appropriate treatment. There is also a hope that the project - which took three years to develop at the San Diego Naval Medical Centre in California - will have civilian uses. Doctor James Spira, a staff psychologist at the centre, said that monitoring troops' reactions can ultimately help them gain a better control over their behaviour in certain situations. "The virtual reality environment is clearly not the same thing as being there. And 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," he told reporters. A recent article in the New England Journal of found that nearly 17 per cent of all US troops returning from Iraq have reported mental illness of some type relating to their combat experience. Officials say there has been an increase in the number of broken marriages, car accidents, fights and alcohol or drug abuse. Many troops report having problems dealing with their anger and frustration on return to a non-combat environment. In addition to the visual simulations, troops participating in the project wear headphones into which the sound of US military helicopters is played, along with that of sniper fire and mortar rounds.