Online tools provide hope, help for Veterans


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CoachscreenFor some veterans, managing the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may seem like an overwhelming task. To assist in this process, the VA’s National Center for PTSD is offering online tools that help Veterans manage symptoms anywhere, anytime.

According to Rebecca Jackson Stoeckle of the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center (EDC), online tools are playing an increasingly important role in delivering mental health services to Veterans in need. And when these tools are research-based, they can be critical supplements to ongoing clinical care.

“The mental health needs of this population are simply larger than clinicians’ ability to address them,” says Stoeckle. “There’s a need for digital health tools that allow Veterans to track their behaviors and manage their symptoms in between visits to their clinician.”

EDC has already built and released one tool, called PTSD Coach Online. This web-based platform grew out of the popular PTSD Coach smartphone app, which was developed by the Center and offers 17 different evidence-informed tools to help those suffering from PTSD cope with its symptoms. The tools range from instructions for how to use deep breathing exercises to relieve stress to short interactive tutorials that help users develop healthy habits, such as better sleep patterns.

“It’s important for anyone dealing with mental health issues to have choices in their treatment,” says Cybele Merrick, associate director for education at the Center. “PTSD Coach Online is not a standalone treatment option, but it can be used during treatment because the tools are so in line with current therapies.”

The online version was developed to reach Veterans who do not have smartphones. It includes more writing exercises than the app, and its tools can help Veterans manage immediate symptoms as well as develop ongoing behaviors and skills for leading a healthy life. Merrick describes PTSD Coach Online as a “booster” that can remind Veterans of the techniques they learned in cognitive behavioral therapy.

“We thought a lot about how to take something that was often done in a clinician’s office and transfer it to an online environment where the patient is doing everything alone,” says EDC’s Athi Myint-U. “The user experience was paramount.”

This winter, EDC will release another online tool for Veterans. Called VetChange, it is an online resource for Veterans with co-occurring PTSD and problem drinking, and it is based on an intervention originally piloted by the Boston University School of Public Health and the VA.

The primary goal of VetChange is to help users control or reduce their drinking. It includes a daily log for users to track their drinking, allows them to set weekly goals, and includes learning tools that help them develop action plans to meet those goals. VetChange users can sign in and save their action plans and daily logs, providing continuity. They can also sign up to receive e-mail or text reminders from VetChange to stay engaged.

Developing a complete online resource presented a number of opportunities for innovation, says Myint-U. One example is the website’s responsive design, which gives users flexibility in how to access the site, whether via smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.

Another change is the amount of information that users can enter. In the original version of VetChange, users had to track their drinking behaviors on paper before entering them into an online system once a week. But the new version allows users to log their behavior online at any time.

“Users can even enter narrative details, like how they were feeling and where they were when they felt the urge to drink,” says Myint-U. “This way, they can easily reflect on their behaviors over time and on how far they’ve come.”

It’s that final note about progress that rings true for Stoeckle.

“Progress is seeing every veteran get the mental health care they need, when they need it,” she says. “We are honored to help make that possible.”

About the author: Burt Granofsky is a senior writer at EDC. EDC is a global non-profit organization that designs, implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunity worldwide. Visit www.edc.org.

 

Author

Burt Granofsky

Comments

  1. Danny    

    MR. BEAN!!!! PLEASE STOP! I live just north of you (P.V.) & want you to know that our VETERANS Administration Clinic has a very good mental health dept. Maybe you could talk to them?? You have so much to live for; think of your kids. Please stay in the battle; the end result will be worth it; I have been exactly where you are & know what I am talking about. Please, my brother, don’t give up! Yahweh ( Hebrew & Cherokee for Father God) will hear your name today & every day. Please be patient & strong.PLEASE

  2. Danny    

    Mr. Hurry, If I may make the only suggestion I can think of; try contacting the Mormon church. They are big about helping people & you don’t have to be a member. Explain the problem & see if they will assist you. Heckler, no harm in trying! Good luck, sir.

  3. John Hurry    

    My fear is that patients can not use these tools properly, and providers should know that not all people will be able to use them, because of age, lack of technical sophistication or access to computers and smartphones, etc.

  4. Danny    

    My fear is that, just like with this blog, people will RUIN it by cursing, chastising each other, & doing nothing but complaining. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for freedom of speech, but little good is usually accomplished in that kind of atmosphere. It’s like a good old fashioned bar fight; you may think you won, but you still hurt just as much in the morning. Laugh & call me what you want, but as of this moment, there are no NEW posts for us to read. I wonder why?

    1. Sherry    

      Please understand public forum is the last place most people want to post issues facing our veterans – as you know – handling military affairs are to be kept internal, that is how our veterans are taught to handle things. That said, when the internal system continues to fail, it must go public. The whistle blower was right to make public the deaths caused by a VA hospital, which, sent the shredders into high speed. Do you really think the people in charge of such a vast system really know what goes on? They expect things are running smoothly unless they hear otherwise.

      1. Danny    

        Sherry, while I do relate to what you are saying, I got out of the military in 1985. I am an ally & very strong supporter of Secretary McDonald – NOT the VETERANS Administration. Veterans need to stick together now more than ever. I was chastised for saying how I feel but will say it again:
        We are the VETERANS in the Administration; without us, it would not exist! Every employee there, even Secretary McDonald, whom I respect very much, should know that they, in essence, work for us. Without the veterans, America might not exist. No bragging, no feeling of entitlement – just the facts, ma’am.

        1. Sherry    

          Well, it appears we are on the same page. My family is third generation military, deployed in nearly every theatre. Being a veteran yourself you know first hand, as do I, the sacrifices made – they know what they signed up for. Unfortunately, the administration keeps failing on promises made throughout generations. Yes, they work for the veterans, unfortunately, they don’t seem to see it that way. Run around – red tape – failed system.
          Wish you the best of luck moving forward.

        2. D Bean    

          Hi, I have worked endlessly in dealing with the VA Regional office in Phoenix AZ. They have made my life a living nightmare, yes just like other veterans, it’s over claims, and here recently, a convalescent claim that was denied, per the Appeals sup, that I managed to speak with, based on the information received, despite the information being included in my initial request. Also, I advised the Appeals sup that per the request paperwork, if a procedure was done at a VA facility, indicate the facility as they have access to our records, which he acknowledged. I then advised him then his reviewer failed to adequately evaluate my request, and make a proper determination, by not utilizing his resources. If the paperwork was not included in the review, then it’s his or her responsibility to access my record for review and clarification. Instead it was denied, and put back on me. Once the appeals sup and I established this as a mistake, he said he could not correct it, that I would have to file a NOD, even though the mistake was on their end. I am separated from my wife, as a result of all the stress caused by the Phoenix Regional VA, and the Tucson VA Hospital, I have been driven to a state of depression, now on meds, and really feel like one day I’m gonna shoot myself, as the up and down stressors such as rent (the VA homeless program helped me get established post separation) utilities, and inability to care for my kids, wear on me from month to month. They don’t care, but if and when I do kill myself, I will have names of all the people I spoke with, and all of the situations that have driven me to this point. This I feel is the only way to draw attention to others with issues like mine.

  5. Sherry    

    Getting an immediate-need monthly quick fix is a low-level connection, but a connection nonetheless.

    Looking further into the issue of what causes homelessness among our veterans could be monetary VA benefits taking far longer than necessary to issue (months to years), including much needed school benefits.

    By the time the distribution begins veterans can already be homeless due to the inability to meet rent and basis utility costs. That itself can begin the downward spiral leaving our veterans feeling abandoned. A different form of PTSD from combat, but it is PTSD.

    Heading to the hills is a place away from the disfunction of “civilization” and a stifled VA network/system that has already let them down.

    I often wonder how many of our veterans faced with becoming homeless commit suicide due to the financial hardship created by delay in benefit(s).

    Fixing the stagnant VA benefits system could vastly improve the lives of many of our veterans.

  6. Bob Kinsler    

    While this is a good thing a couple of challenges I face on a daily basis. One of these is most of the Veterans living in the mountains around here do not have access to the internet much less than a cell phone connection, they might have a land line but I doubt it. Preferring to live outdoors much like the mountain men before them I can get them into the VA One Stop program I set up once a month when they come down to fill up on donated food stuff. So anywhere and anytime is a little beyond these veterans.

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