Alabama summit planned to help veterans transition to civilian life (AL.com)
A meeting is being planned at the University of Alabama to improve the transition to civilian life for military veterans. The two-day event is called “Service Member to Civilian: A National Summit on Improving Transitions.” It’s being held at the Bryant Conference Center starting April 16. Assistant nursing and social work dean Karl Hamner says the meeting will explore ways service members, veterans, their relatives and others can improve the change from military to civilian life. More than 2.6 million veterans have returned home in the 13 years since U.S. troops first deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
New York Film Academy appoints decorated war hero to support veterans education (BroadwayWorld.com)
The New York Film Academy announced the appointment of Colonel Jack Jacobs, one of America’s most decorated war heroes, as the Film Academy’s Chair of Veterans Advancement Program. Colonel Jacobs served in the U.S. Military for more than 20 years and his gallantry in Vietnam earned him the Medal of Honor-the nation’s highest combat honor-two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. Colonel Jacobs is currently a military strategist and on-air analyst for NBC and MSNBC News. “There is nothing like military service that gives young people authority and responsibility at an early age. If there is anybody prepared to lead, it is the veteran,” said Colonel Jacobs. “I didn’t hesitate to sign on with the New York Film Academy because I want to support our country’s service members in getting the best film and media arts education possible – training that leads to interesting and creative careers.” The New York Film Academy has many programs approved for veterans educational benefits, and also participates in the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program. The school’s campuses in Los Angeles and New York have been proud hosts to more than 500 veterans since 2009.
Stigmatized pit bulls helping veterans with PTSD (SFgate.com)
When former Marine Joe Bonfiglio starts thrashing in his sleep, his pit bull service dog jumps on the bed, climbs on top of him and wakes him up to end the flashback. The dog named Zen has allowed Bonfiglio, 24, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from a five-month tour in Afghanistan, to get back to everyday activities. He can now do things such as shop at malls in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., because Zen helps calm Bonfiglio when crowds trigger a panic attack. “I used to go to bars with my friends. And war movies. I am not going to see ‘American Sniper,’” he said. “It would bring me back to a place I don’t want to be.” Pit bulls aren’t the typical choice for a service dog. They are feared, banned in hundreds of cities and blamed for sometimes deadly attacks. The Animal Farm Foundation in Dutchess County, N.Y., wants to change that stigma through a program that trains and donates rescued pit bulls to guide the blind and push wheelchairs or help people regain their mobility and avoid falls. The effort faces opposition from those who believe the breed is dangerous. The Assistance Dog Training Program is believed to be the only U.S. training school exclusively for service dogs that uses pit bulls saved from shelters, said Apryl Lea, the foundation’s certified trainer. It’s placed five dogs that require two years to breed, socialize, train and acquaint dogs with handlers. A smaller group, Pits for Patriots, trains rescued pit bulls as comfort, therapy and support dogs for veterans, police officers and firefighters but has yet to place any service dogs. Comfort dogs are pets that get a few weeks of training, while therapy animals receive at least six months of training to help calm people who haven’t received a diagnosis as severe as PTSD.
Technology’s role in preparing military social workers (USC News)
University of Southern California researchers are studying how to help behavioral health providers effectively treat the growing number of service members and veterans returning to communities. The Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) at the USC School of Social Work received a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study whether technology — i.e., 3-D avatar animation and mobile apps — are effective at training graduate students and professional clinicians and therapists. The three-year study will look at multiple ways of rapidly increasing the workforce with culturally competent military social workers. Anthony Hassan, clinical professor and director of CIR, said the grant is a testament to the trust the department has placed in the ongoing research at the center and school. “CIR and DOD share the same vision that education and training can be and should be advanced, using the most innovative technologies to train clinicians anywhere, anytime to be able to meet the needs of our military and veteran communities,” Hassan said. The first part of the DOD study will examine the efficacy of graduate student training using current methods in the field, like peer-to-peer role play and standardized patient actors who simulate symptoms. It will also review a new method being developed that uses a 3-D human avatar — a fictitious Marine who has been exposed to combat stress and now presents with life challenges.
Researchers use virtual reality to aid PTSD victims (Central Florida Future)
Researchers at the University of Central Florida have pioneered a new therapy regimen to combat the growing incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans. As part of a $5.1 million Department of Defense grant, researchers under Dr. Deborah Beidel at the UCF RESTORES clinic have been experimenting with the application of virtual reality techniques as part of a patient’s therapy regimen. The treatment, a subset of trauma-management therapy known as exposure therapy, utilizes a unique combination of virtual reality software, mechanical stimulation and olfactory stimulation to recreate a patient’s traumatic experiences. By prolonged exposure to this virtually simulated trauma, a patient is gradually desensitized to the effects and distress the trauma causes during their day-to-day life. “We have patients come to us with very severe symptoms of PTSD,” said Dr. Sandra Neer, research assistant professor and project coordinator for the trauma-management therapy program. “They’re almost unable to function. By the end of the therapy, their CAP scores [a measure of PTSD symptom severity] have been almost halved.” Compared to traditional regimens of treatment that can take months to finish, this new form of virtual reality exposure therapy requires only three weeks — 29 sessions — to complete. Retention rates are high compared to traditional treatment methodologies, with only one patient out of 80 dropping out of the program, compared to a 47 percent dropout rate for more conventional treatments.