‘I was at peace:’ Orlando VA uses virtual reality tech to support mental health for veterans

Veterans with PTSD can use VR goggles for therapeutic exercises

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Veterans Affairs Health Care System is using virtual reality to help veterans with their mental health.

U.S. Navy veteran Robert Fondran, is living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Some days are better than others,” Fondran said. “Some days, the issues are right there, right in front and just really just pounding away at my peace of mind.”

He’s now coping with his PTSD through the use of virtual reality goggles.

“I had no idea that it was going to be so realistic that I could be instantly transported, for lack of a better word, to a place where instantly, I was at peace,” Fondran said. “PTSD is hell, for lack of a better word, and it all just went away.”

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Veterans are able to pick from a number of virtual activities, like fishing, meditating or painting. At one of their recent sessions, veterans were asked to paint a symbol that means something to them.

For Fondran, that’s scuba diving.

“When I go diving for some reason, I always have to go to the deepest, darkest place,” Fondran said. “And that’s what my painting represented. For some reason, that’s therapeutic for me. Like they say, one man’s heritage is another man’s hell. That’s heaven for me. It was great. I was able to create something that represented me.”

U.S. Army veteran Duane Pool said he wasn’t sure of the artwork exercise that day – but he kept an open mind and was pleasantly surprised.

“It was actually very, actually very therapeutic,” Pool said. “Before I came into the room, I had a lot of things on my mind, and it kind of like I forgot all about them when I started working on the art because I was looking, and painting and fishing is very relaxing. I did forget all about it, and believe it or not, I was having fun. It was – it was really nice.”

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Lamar Lankford also struggles with PTSD. He said the goggles reminded him of playing video games as a kid.

“This has come a long way from like when I was a kid...” Lankford said. “To be quite honest with you, I am hooked.”

At first, painting was a challenge for Lankford, but the virtual reality goggles triggered a childhood memory that made everything come together.

“Growing up, we were kids, we were doing graffiti, and it just clicked,” Lankford said. “I was like, I’m like, wait a minute, this thing sounds like a spray paint can. It is just amazing how that one moment just took me back. The world at that juncture could have been falling. It could have been falling down, you know, all around me. But mentally, I was so focused on that. I mean, I was just like, wow, this, you know what I mean? And I would say this there, it’s resources like that that can help you cope.”

Orlando VA officials are hoping the goggles will be incorporated into other treatment plans, such as occupational therapy and physical therapy, in addition to mental health.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.