For many of the veterans of World War II, war memorials are out of reach. They’re in their late 80s and 90s now and travel can be a challenge, even with the help of programs like Honor Flight. That’s why Honor Everywhere 360 was created — a virtual reality tour of U.S. War Memorials in Washington, D.C.
Over the course of the 8-minute experience, veteran can see the World War II Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery from up close, and in an immersive, VR view. All it takes is a free app on Android or iOS and a Google Cardboard or any other Android-powered VR headset, and volunteers who can take the time to bring the video to the people who need to see it most. It was created as collaboration between Central MO Honor Flight, Jaunt Studios, Google, Ghost Machine VR and StoryUP Studios.
Earlier this year, StoryUP CEO Sarah Hill asked people with VR headsets to consider finding veterans in their area who aren’t physically able to visit the memorials:
If you’re only using your VR viewer simply to watch content or to give demos to prospective clients, you’re missing a huge opportunity to make an impact. If you have a Google Cardboard or any kind of virtual reality viewing device, you could be using that device to share the World War II Memorial with terminally ill or aging Veterans. Later this Fall, our Honor Everywhere program will expand to include tours for Vietnam Veterans who are not able to physically travel on Honor Flights. The best way to see the memorial is in person. But for many of these men and women in their 80s and 90s, travel is no longer possible.
Chances are you know at least one Vietnam, Korea or World War II Veteran. If you know how to operate a VR viewer, you hold the keys to a trip around the world for people unable to physically travel. Don’t keep those keys in your pocket.
Google brought veterans a similar opportunity on Veterans Day last year, with #UnitedWeMarch, a program that allowed thousands of veterans in VA hospitals to virtually march in the New York City Veterans Day Parade.
VR is also being used to help younger veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Bravemind is a graduated exposure therapy tool that helps patients immerse themselves in traumatic memories in a safe, controlled environment with the help of clinicians. Strive is a similar project that seeks to prepare users for combat environments in advance, and build resilience in the process.
TechCrunch looked at another VR treatment for PTSD earlier this year.
Beyond Care is working on a VR software solution for PTSD based on the principle of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR works by having a patient recall a traumatic memory, then having the patient follow a moving object with their eyes only at the same time. The dual task of memory recall plus eye movement taxes the working memory, causing the traumatic memory to become less clear and vivid.
Eventually, after repeating this process, the memory permanently loses its ability to trigger such intense emotional responses. After a successful pilot study, Beyond Care is now coordinating a patient trial in partnership with a Dutch University and a company specializing in delivering specialized psychological treatment over the Internet. The results of this study will determine if the new VR desensitization and reprocessing therapy, called Beyond Care PTSD, works and, more interestingly, whether it can be successfully delivered virtually, under the semi-supervision of a therapist.
Virtual Reality Therapy is a growing field, and it’s certain we’ll see more helpful projects come up as the technology is adopted more widely and researchers can more easily make use of it. In combination with talk therapy, medication, and other approaches, it is already making a big difference for a lot of people — including our veterans.