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The VA Is Using Video Games To Help Disabled Vets Recover And Reconnect

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Some VA medical centers have realized that helping vets get back in the game can also help with their recovery.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 When you think about all the challenges veterans face after they're injured in the service. Struggling to play video games may not be the first to come to mind, but some VA medical centers have realized helping vets get back in the game can also help with their recovery. Stephanie Calambini of the American Home Front Project reports from Tampa

Speaker 2: 00:21 26 year old Mike Montoursville is playing need for speed on an x box in a small room filled with flat screen TVs, virtual reality headsets and squishy blue arm chairs. It's as recreation therapist Jamie Kaplan's office at the veteran's hospital in Tampa Caplin's kicking back and one of those arm chairs, but month Orville is in his wheelchair. He jokes with Kaplan about the rundown state of the car he's racing with. They're going to be like, Oh man, this guy's driving a beat up Dotson's to 80 or 200 seat take games. Seriously, if you can beat people a back car [inaudible] that shows you're serious game room, the banter, the trash talk month or bill says those are some of his favorite things about gaming. The army veteran was paralyzed during training exercises and Afghanistan five years ago.

Speaker 3: 01:16 My spinal cord injury causes me to lac dexterity in my fingers and my wrists. When I learned about that, I was like, Oh man, how am I going to hold a controller came?

Speaker 2: 01:27 That's where Kaplan comes in. He taught mom or bill how to use the Xbox adaptive controllers. Microsoft recently donated to about two dozen VA medical centers. Montoursville uses his fists and risks to push oversized buttons and steel and attachable Joystick, but Kaplan says there's a variety of art

Speaker 4: 01:46 shins you can configure it utilizing switches, utilizing joysticks to allow everybody from an amputee to a stroke patient who are quadriplegic and the ability to gain

Speaker 2: 01:58 Caplin refers to recreation therapy, a sneaky therapy because patients don't realize they're working on things like motor and the brain function, but it's ultimate goal is to help veterans reconnect with the activities they love and the people they love doing them with.

Speaker 4: 02:14 I had a patient, his brother came in and they were able to game together for the first time in three years and he had tears in his eyes and he said, I never thought I'd be able to do this again.

Speaker 2: 02:25 Manorville has a different kind of memory with his brother who we recently competed with all mine

Speaker 3: 02:30 and he's like, dude, there's no way that you play on the other end because I was just dominate again. He's like, you sure when you actually show them that you can kick their butt. They're like amazed of what you can do.

Speaker 2: 02:41 Gaming doesn't just help that spend time with friends and family for Marine Corps veteran Dave crouse, it connected him with a virtual support system when no one else could reach him. The former bomb squad technician lost his left hand and I in 2013

Speaker 1: 02:57 at two 30 in the morning when I've woken

Speaker 5: 03:00 up with nightmares, um, re-examining every decision I ever made. That was where I turned to video games. The most

Speaker 2: 03:07 cross describes the modern came in community where strangers from all around the world can gain together and form relationships through chat apps and streaming services like twitch and discord. He works with stackup of gaming charity for veterans and active duty military. The group organizes meetups for gamers and even launched a suicide prevention program through its discord channel.

Speaker 5: 03:29 Had some very heavy conversations over the playing of video games. This amazing thing happens psychologically when you're just hanging out. A lot of those barriers go down because now all we're doing, we're just shooting digital monsters.

Speaker 2: 03:42 Adaptive controllers make that community more accessible to disabled vets, but how accessible are the controllers? Microsoft charges about a hundred dollars but that price climbs with various attachments. Jamey Caplan says the VA actually considers the controllers adaptive medical equipment and can purchase them for patients of justified. He says the BA understands it's not about just playing video games, it's improving the quality of a veteran's life. I'm Stephanie Calambini in Tampa. This story was produced by the American Home Front project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veteran's funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.