Could VR unlock the cure for Vietnam veterans' decades-old PTSD?

The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but four decades later, upward of 200,000 veterans still suffer from war-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2014 alone, more than 60,000 new Vietnam-era veterans came forward seeking help — a number almost as high as the new cases of PTSD among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies, wants to help them. For more than a decade, Rizzo has been working to create VR worlds designed to help war veterans confront traumatic situations from their past.

There are currently 14 such virtual worlds, resembling scenes from various contemporary war zones around the world. These relatively blank canvases can then be updated to reflect situations specific to an individual — with clinicians adding customized elements like helicopters, small-arms fire, and more. The therapy involves patients donning VR headsets and experiencing recreations of the events that haunt them.

“It can sound counterintuitive when people first hear about this,” Rizzo tells Digital Trends. “But the goal is to help patients to confront and process difficult emotional memories in a safe, well-supported environment. We revisit the stimuli which surrounded the trauma many, many times. As a result, the stimuli no longer invokes the same sense of threat because people see that nothing really bad happens. It was bad when it happened, yes, but it’s not dangerous now. People are always going to feel sad about traumatic events, but they’re not going to be waking up screaming in the middle of the night. It’s a method of processing things in a way that people haven’t done before.”

In fact, the use of VR simply adds a 21st-century spin to a well-documented older technique called prolonged exposure therapy, in which therapists ask patients to imagine the scenario that affected them. With virtual reality, however, it’s possible to go further than simply imagining.

Now Rizzo wants to use his lab’s expertise to build a scenario to fit Vietnam veterans. “Whether it’s due to an aging population which is becoming more emotionally vulnerable; people retiring from work and suddenly having more time on their hands; people nearing the end of their life and wanting closure on something which has always haunted them — whatever reason it is, we feel that it’s important that Vietnam-era vets have access to the same forms of treatment we’ve shown to be effective with other veterans of war,” Rizzo says.

The campaign is seeking a lofty $500,000 to develop a system specifically designed to replicate the sounds, scenes, and other emotional trigger-points of the Vietnam War environment. This will then be made it freely available to clinicians. “We just need the funding,” the project’s page notes.

Provided it has the impact Rizzo believes it will, there surely can’t be too many more worthy crowdfunding projects.

Emerging Tech

Behind the unsettling sci-fi landscapes of Simon Stalenhag’s ‘Electric State’

The narrative artbook follows the journey of a young traveler, Michelle, and her robot, Skip, as they head west to the Pacific coast through an alternative America torn apart by civil war and the trappings of military-grade virtual reality.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (October 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Virtual Reality

The Oculus Quest’s competitor isn’t Rift or Vive. It’s the Nintendo Switch

While Oculus is optimistic that its standalone Quest VR headset will deliver a quality experience, the headset was designed on a mobile chipset. That means its less of a Rift replacement and more like the VR equivalent of Nintendo’s…
Emerging Tech

No longer a gaming novelty, VR gets acceptance letter from Arizona State

Students at Arizona State University are getting an unexpected added extra for their tuition money this semester: A virtual reality headset for their course. Here's how it's going to be used.
Virtual Reality

The Oculus Quest and Go both let you play without a PC, but which is better?

The mid-range of virtual reality hardware is by far the most competitive, with Oculus VR now offering two excellent products to those with more limited budgets. We pitted the Oculus Quest vs. Oculus Go, to see which is best.

The Oculus Quest is the new kid on the block, but can it beat the Rift?

The Oculus Rift has been available for two year, and the Oculus Quest will be available near the start of the next, but which one is best for you? That depends on the power of your gaming PC.

Still confused about how the Oculus Quest works? Here's the scoop

Oculus' Quest looks to offer PC-quality VR without the need for a PC. From revamped Oculus Touch controls to its sleek design, here's everything we know about the next-gen headset.

From horror to first-person shooters, these are the best games in VR

Whether you own a PlayStation VR, and Oculus Rift, or an HTC Vive, you have a ton of different choices when it comes to games. These are 15 of the best virtual reality games available right now.
Social Media

3D Facebook photos jump out of the newsfeed, no glasses needed

You're not seeing things -- that photo in your Facebook newsfeed is 3D. Launching today, 3D Facebook Photos use the depth maps from dual-lens smartphones to add dimension to an image as you move your phone.
Product Review

The Oculus Rift is cheaper, the Vive Pro is better. Is the original Vive still worth it?

The Oculus Rift may have brought virtual reality into the public eye, but HTC’s Vive, built in partnership with Valve, does it better. Does the Vive still represent the true future of virtual reality, or are there better competitors on…
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.