Orlando VA Hospital sees results from virtual reality therapy

2020 lockdown isolation helped inspire new initiative

LAKE NONA, Fla. – At the Orlando VA Hospital, veterans can be transported to outer space, swim with dolphins or learn how to play a new instrument through virtual reality goggles.

The goggles are helping veterans with their mental health. The program has seen so much success that the Orlando VA is educating more of its healthcare providers on the immersive technology.

Roger Tabatt, recreational therapist for the Orlando VA, said the lockdown of 2020 impacted one of the most important aspects of veteran care.

“One of the biggest things that’s important to our line of work is to do things with socialization,” Tabatt said. “Bring them to outings, bring them fishing, BBQ, everything under the sun, and everything just got put to a halt.”

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While visiting a friend’s house one day, Tabatt tried out some virtual reality goggles. That’s when inspiration hit.

“I thought to myself, ‘All this fun experience I’ve had, this could be a way to bring this world to these veterans,’” Tabatt said.

He said they’ve seen tremendous success among veterans facing mental health issues ranging from PTSD to depression to substance abuse.

“It can be used to help them open up, to become more vulnerable, which is part of one of the main goals that we address in a mental health setting.”

Kim Bielicki, innovation specialist for the Orlando VA, said they want to empower their providers to use the new technology by hosting an educational session at their Lake Nona facility.

“It’s a group of rec therapists who are trying to identify a new, innovative way to bring virtual reality and creative arts to our veterans in our Lake Baldwin dom (domiciliary), our Lake Nona dom, our CLC inpatient and HUDVASH areas as a new experience for them to try to do drawing as art therapy, visit a museum, go fishing if they would like, learn how to play drums — something they can take with them as a skill when they leave,” Bielicki said.

Tabatt said it’s an emotional experience seeing this much interest and success in the program.

“It’s very enlightening and heartwarming to see something that’s actually working,” Tabatt said.

Next week, News 6 will attend an art therapy session where we will see how the virtual reality goggles are helping veterans in real time at the Lake Baldwin facility.

Bielicki said they hope to expand the use of the virtual reality goggles to other areas like inpatient care or patient waiting rooms.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.