On December 15, Veteran Health Administration (VHA) Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning (OHIL) hosted the first-ever Veteran eXpeRience at the National SimLEARN Validation, Evaluation, and Testing (SimVET) Center in Orlando, Florida. At this event, more than 40 Veterans experienced how VA is using extended reality (XR) to transform Veteran care delivery and the overall health care experience.
The event was the first of its kind and was designed to provide Veterans with an in-person, hands-on experience to help highlight how virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and other immersive technologies can impact physical, emotional and mental health. As Veterans arrived throughout the day, OHIL’s VA Immersive team and a host of VHA XR enthusiasts and staff from Orlando VA Medical Center and OHIL’s Simulation Learning, Evaluation, Assessment, and Research Network (SimLEARN) helped each one navigate a variety of XR demonstrations and experiences.
For each experience, Veterans were helped to put on VR headsets to gain understanding, in real-time, how 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.
“You’re so involved in [the experience], it’s almost like therapy,” said Army Veteran Gilberto Vallejo, who attended the event. “You completely forget your pain. Because now you’re in a virtual reality system where you’re playing a game, and you just constantly want to do better. You don’t realize that you’re using it for therapy.”
It is often difficult to express with words alone how XR has such an impact, which creates a challenge for helping staff, leaders, caregivers and Veterans overcome assumptions and skepticism about a technology that originated in the world of gaming; however, by allowing Veterans to put their “heads in headsets,” the Veteran eXpeRience provided an opportunity for the impact to be seen and felt.
While the December Veteran eXpeRience took place in Florida, VA’s immersive technology efforts are making an impact nationwide as the VA Immersive team continues to expand its presence and support across the entire VA system. More than 1,000 Veterans have now used XR in their VA health care journeys.
Additionally, more facilities and providers are including XR in regular care delivery, and the impact is being realized in a meaningful way. For example, at one facility—the Western North Carolina Healthcare System—VR has been used with Veterans in over 500 sessions. Sixty-nine percent of Veterans who used VR for pain management experienced a reduction in acute and/or chronic pain intensity. Almost all of Veterans who used VR for anxiety or boredom experienced a decrease in anxiety levels or the dissipation of boredom, respectively.
As XR and other immersive technologies continue to spread across VA and as more Veterans engage with XR at their VA facilities, Veteran health care will continue to be transformed. Talk to your care provider about XR options at your facility or reach out to the VA Immersive team at VHAXRNetwork@va.gov, and stay tuned for future opportunities to attend a Veteran eXpeRience in your area.