VA hospitals announce new therapy program that uses video games to help veterans

Local News

(5/14/19) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Veterans can now turn to video games for therapy. Xbox is teaming up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Microsoft to create an adaptive controller so veterans with disabilities and others can play whatever games they’re into just as everyone else can. 

The VA is jump-starting its video game rehabilitation program this month and its goal is to create a community within the VA hospitals across America.

“I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I do enjoy playing from time to time,” said Air Force veteran Jesse Graham.

Graham says when he does pick up a controller, it’s not for long.

He said, “All of a sudden it is kind of hard, my hand cramps up, kind of hard to press a button.”

Graham broke his neck in a snowboarding accident after serving in the military for 11 years and now simple tasks like hand movement are difficult. Now he’s getting back behind the wheel — or controller. His rehab routine now includes gaming. It’s part of a new program offered at select Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country. 

“We can make it completely unique to each individual’s needs, and that’s going to allow them to participate on a completely level playing field,” said National Veterans Sports Program Director Lief Nelson.

Nelson says that any veteran eligible for VA care can participate.

He said, “And if gaming is something that makes sense for their rehabilitation plan or if it is something that could facilitate a pathway to something else, we can do that.”

Recreation therapist Demetrice Diggs says the program allows veterans, like Graham, to feel normal despite their disability.

“Making sure they are successful. They feel successful in what they are doing with the game. Make sure they are enjoying it, socializing, and engaging with other veterans with this as well,” she said.

The VA plans to expand the gaming program to all of its medical centers in the next few years.

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