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MARION, Ill. — The days of lying on a couch staring up at a blank white ceiling and talking about your mental health with your therapist may be coming to an end. Imagine — No, you don’t have to. Just throw on some VR goggles and open your eyes: You’re now alone on the white hot sands of the Caribbean looking out over a crystal blue sea while your therapist discusses your anxiety of crowded places. The beach slowly fills with people, but you don’t mind. They aren’t really there anyway. After enough sessions like this, you could really see yourself going on a real vacation without debilitating anxiety. That isn’t fantasy. That’s reality — virtual reality. And it may be coming soon to the Marion VA Center for Behavioral Health in Marion, Illinois. 

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VA Marion Health Care Executive Director Zachary Sage tries out the VXR virtual reality system which he wants to bring to the Marion VA.  

VA Immersive, a sector within the Veterans Affairs Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning (OHIL), put on a demonstration of virtual reality and augmented reality technology called Veteran Experience (VXR) Thursday at the Marion VA Center for Behavioral Health for VA staff and veterans. 

During the event, participants had a chance to see what the VXR technology was all about. Consisting of a set of goggles and two handheld controls, the VXR creates a virtual reality at the wearer’s finger tips that has many applications in health care. 

“In the simplest form is that positive distraction where no longer do I need to have you in the four white walls of a room,” said VA Immersive Project Manager Evan Davis, who gave VXR demonstrations. “I can take you to Venezuela or somewhere comfortable and allow you the space to feel more comfortable. And then as a provider, that might allow me to address some things that maybe you’re not comfortable addressing.”

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Army Veteran Tim Ezell picks up blocks and plays ping-pong during a virtual reality demonstration at the Marion VA. Ezell said he was having a bad day mentally but after trying on the virtual reality goggles, he had more clarity. 

The VXR has been used with PTSD patients and exposure therapy approaches where individuals are exposed to scenarios to help desensitize the patient, Davis said. The therapy session is overseen by a qualified mental health provider. Veterans who once had a fear of flying have overcome that fear through VXR therapy sessions that guided them and worked them up to boarding the plan by simulating a walk through the airport. 

“They felt more comfortable being in those spaces because their provider was able to show them and put them in without actually having them there,” said Davis. 

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VA Immersive, a sector within the Veterans Affairs Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning, put on a demonstration of virtual reality and augmented reality technology called Veteran Experience (VXR), April 18 at the Marion VA Center for Behavioral Health for staff and veterans. 

VXR is in every state and at more than 150 sites. The VA sees itself as a global leader in virtual reality tech, bringing the immersive experience of virtual reality into the mental health and physical and occupational therapy settings.     

“We are demoing this here because we want to bring this technology here,” VA Marion Health Care Executive Director Zachary Sage said.

Sage got to try out the VXR for himself. He said he wasn’t sure on what kind of scale the technology would be available, but he wanted to see it first and foremost used in Marion’s rehabilitation programs, especially for veterans in the community living center who need physical and occupational therapy. 

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Chad Krumrey, a Navy veteran, tries out the VXR system. He though it might have been just a silly video game. Afterward he said it made his depression symptoms less severe.  

“There’s lots of clinical data about the effectiveness in this, and veterans actually enjoy the experience,” said Sage.  

One veteran, who served in the Army, had an extraordinary reaction to the virtual reality experience. Tim Ezell was busy picking up blocks off a desk and playing ping-pong, which might seem trivial to the uninitiated, but the experience had a therapeutic effect on him. 

“I was kind of having a bad day today, kind of mentally, you know what I am saying, but after, it gave me some clarity, [took] my mind off of everything that I had going on,” said Ezell. “I definitely suggest it for anybody, especially if you have a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, it is great. Like I said, I came in with some things going on, it made me forget about them. I could just sit there all day long.”

Chad Krumrey, a Navy veteran, had a similar experience and effect with the VXR. 

“I know after I was done experiencing it, I just felt better. My depression was not as high. My anxiety was lowered. I just really felt all around better after the experience,” said Krumrey, who initially believed the VXR was just “some silly video game or something” but afterward was made a believer in VXR and its limitless potential to “reach out and touch a whole lot of veterans.”   

Do you think you may suffer from Anxiety and live in Florida, California or New York?

If so, please consider scheduling a proper virtual online ADHD and Anxiety diagnosis with one of our physicians. Although we have an online ADHD and Anxiety diagnosis tool, a proper diagnosis from a Board-Certified Medical Doctor will help you know for sure. If appropriate, a customized treatment program will be recommended at the conclusion of that initial visit.

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