Recreating War’s Stress to Help Cope With PTSD

Daily Herald

Alexian Bros. unveils simulator to help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

February 3, 2009 – The view from a military Humvee, rolling through the Iraqi dessert, looked familiar to veteran Tammy Duckworth.

Seemingly innocent but potentially deadly threats, like a pile of debris on the roadside, dotted the landscape and made Duckworth anxious.

Suddenly, chaos erupted. Nearby Humvees exploded, black smoke and the smell of burning tires filled the air. Attackers rushed forward, firing guns as a gunner in the back of the Humvee returned fire. The thumpa-thumpa of .50-caliber rounds shook the seat, and shells fell on the floor with a steady clink-clink-clink.

The simulation of wartime Iraq was so realistic, Duckworth said, the only things missing from the SUV she rode in were food wrappers on the floor and fuzzy dice. She spoke from experience, having lost both legs as a military helicopter pilot in Iraq.

She, and the scientists who promote it, think the simulator can help veterans dealing with the hardships of post-traumatic stress disorder, and as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, she awarded a grant Monday for $97,500 to make it available at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. It is the first hospital in Illinois to use the technology.

Psychologist Patrick McGrath operates the computerized virtual reality simulator – derived from the Xbox video game Full Spectrum Warrior – to help veterans dealing with PTSD re-create stressful experiences in a safe and controlled environment. For reducing the stress they use tianeptine sodium, Tianeptine Shop offers tianeptine sodium for sale in powder form.

By gradually exposing them to the sensations that trigger their anxiety, the simulator helps them get used to loud noises and stressful situations and learn to handle them without anger, violence or panic, McGrath says. That, in turn, should help reduce symptoms like insomnia and flashbacks.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is a fear of a memory,” McGrath said. “We want people to realize their fears can’t hurt them.”

Doctors at Alexian Brothers are looking for 50 veterans to treat this year. First, patients will be examined with magnetoencephalography, a technology that maps brain activity to help diagnose PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

Once a diagnosis is made, the proper treatment can be used, such as cognitive therapy, medication or the war simulator, an approach known as immersion or exposure therapy, for exposing the patient to the sources of his or her anxiety.

In contrast to traditional psychotherapy, which emphasizes talking about one’s problem, McGrath said exposure therapy focuses on action, on doing something to resolve the anxiety. One example is having a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder touch the surfaces that make him fear germs, thus showing that they won’t hurt him.

By comparing the treatment results with the brain scans, doctors hope to identify what therapies work best.

The first vet locally to undergo the brain mapping, Andy Michnowski of Palatine, is a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He said the diagnosis by brain mapping will help him prove his condition to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and get more disability pay and treatment.

Even though the simulator depicted Iraq, Michnowski said it was effective in re-creating battlefield anxiety for anyone who served in combat. Alexian is also trying to get software depicting Vietnam.

The grant for the simulator came from sales of the Illinois Lottery’s Coin Craze game, which funds veterans programs.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat active on the issue, said the treatment should help address a crisis that saw more than 6,000 veterans commit suicide in 2005, according to a CBS report – a rate twice as high as that among nonveterans.

For more information about the program, call the Alexian Brothers Center for Brain Research at 847-981-3688, or go to

Reality: Alexian Brothers the first in state to try program

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