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Veteran-owned nonprofit combats PTSD with VR technology

By Ashtyn Asay - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 12, 2021

Isaac Hale, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Bric Simpson, founder of the Forge Forward Project, poses for a portrait at Dynamic Blending in Vineyard on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, suicide rates are up among veterans but Utah-based veteran-owned Forge Forward Project is developing virtual reality technology that they hope could end veteran suicide altogether.

In a partnership with 2B3D, a virtual reality technology company, the Forge Forward Project is developing VRx — virtual reality technology that would give veterans a way to access mental health resources and the ability to connect with friends and family from anywhere in the world.

“VRx is a place where veterans can find peace through gaming, through being social, at any time you could connect with a brother or sister that wore the uniform with you and they understand what you’re going through,” said Bric Simpson, founder and CEO of the Forge Forward Project. “But also … it’s an opportunity to be able to provide crisis management counseling, and eventually, therapy through this medium of virtual reality.”

With VRx, a veteran would have the ability to instantly transport themselves into one of 20 safe and calming VR environments when they are in distress in order to de-escalate. In this space, they would be able to meet with crisis response managers and therapists whether they are stationed overseas or in their own home.

According to Simpson, the immediate nature of virtual crisis response is one of its greatest assets. With VRx, veterans can get help the moment they need it most.

“There’s no scheduling an appointment and waiting weeks to get to that appointment when your crisis is actually already over,” Simpson said. “This is a way to find that help immediately, and to be transported away from the environment that you’re feeling stressed out in … and out of that moment of ‘man I feel like I’m going to do something to hurt myself.'”

Additionally, veterans would be able to connect with their families and other veterans virtually. They could talk, watch movies, or play games together in their VR “homerooms.” The idea behind this is that veterans can build communities with people who have shared similar experiences, and keep in touch with loved ones while overseas, avoiding isolation.

“With these headsets, veterans can step into a soothing virtual environment integrated with neurocognitive games designed by neuroscientists and neuropsychologists in order to increase blood flow to the brain and jumpstart the healing process,” a press release from the Forge Forward Project said.

VRx is still in development, and according to Simpson, the non-profit is still looking for financial partners to help propel the project forward.

“We’re looking for those major partners who want to donate and help us see this through completely,” Simpson said. “We’ve got to find partnerships of people who are willing to say ‘hey this is incredible, we believe in what you’re doing, and we want to help you see it through.'”

In the meantime, the Forge Forward Project is providing veterans with access to mental health therapy, wilderness therapy, MRIs, and a veteran community through volunteer work. Their goal is to provide veterans with resources and community while breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health.

“You [veterans] are some of the most valuable resources that we have on the face of the planet. You as veterans are some of the most capable individuals in our society, you have been battle-proven and tested through some of the highest and toughest adversity situations and come out the other side successful,” Simpson said. “Adversity doesn’t define you, it refines you if you let it … you’re tough, you’re capable of so much more, we believe in you, and there is a place for help if you need it.”

To learn more about the Forge Forward Project or to donate to help fund VRx, visit http://ForgeForwardProject.org. If you or a loved one are a veteran struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can contact the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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