When Cari Kreger returned home from serving in Afghanistan, she knew she had changed. But she didn’t realize just how much. Kreger was with the Army National Guard’s 1484th Transportation Company. One day while on Facebook she saw an ad for a free online intervention therapy for veterans who might be suffering from depression. On a whim, she decided to try it out. That, she says, is when she realized she was living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
The program Cari and now thousands of veterans have tried is called Vets Prevail. It’s an online intervention therapy created by Chicago Company Prevail Health.
Combining cognitive behavioral therapy with a game-like interactive program, it’s geared toward those with mild to moderate symptoms and the participants can remain anonymous. That’s a big plus for many vets.
Prevail Health’s Richard Gengler came up with the concept while at graduate school at the University of Chicago. He’s a former navy pilot concerned that too many veterans were returning from war zones with mental health issues that weren’t being addressed. “Most of these vets that have the issues won’t go do anything. We call them reluctant seekers. So over half of all that have issues won’t step forward … and the other half that admit they have a problem don’t like the options and don’t adhere to them,” said Gengler.
Here’s how the program works. The veteran goes online, takes an initial assessment, creates a profile based on who they are, where they are located and what issues they may have. A tailored program geared toward their needs is then created. They can’t move forward with the therapy until they have completed each level. Research shows Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, is the most effective type of counseling for PTSD. And the CBT they are getting online is the same as if they were having a one on one office visit with a therapist. They are coupled with a veteran peer leader and are also encouraged to join an online community of vets battling similar issues.
But can an online therapy program be as effective as a face to face intervention? That was just one of the questions addressed in a clinical trial conducted by Rush University Medical Center. The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical psychology. Stevan Hobfoll, PhD was the principal investigator. “What we found is that for military personnel who signed up and got involved with the program, we were able to get statistically, significantly and clinically meaningful drops in PTSD and depression from time of enrollment until three months after treatment completed,” said Hobfoll.
The study results showed a 31% reduction in depression symptoms and a 27 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms among those in the Vets Prevail group, and little change or worsening in participants who did not receive the intervention. The other bonus was the cost of care. Hobfoll says the cost of Vets Prevail is estimated to be as little as anywhere from $25 to $50 compared with an average estimated cost of $7,033 to deliver prolonged exposure therapy in a VA setting.
“I wouldn’t see it as let’s stop doing individual therapy and do this but considering that 90% of veterans never go in for treatment, this is better than never going,” said Hobfoll.
Vets Prevail creator Richard Gengler says veterans tend not to seek help for this type of therapy for three main reasons: lack of access to health care, a sense of distrust with the system and the fear that the stigma associated with mental health issues will follow them and affect their careers. “We see this as a tool to augment doctor care where we can provide early low level general treatment options. We’re also interacting with users so those who have higher need, that do need to see a doctor, we can try to route those users into those doctors,” said Gengler.
Cari Kreger says the fact she could remain anonymous is what made her try out the program. “Feelings can often times be hard to open up about and hard to discuss but being honest with myself through a computer website is much easier. I have spread the word about this program to many of my battle buddies who are now also finding comfort in knowing they are not the only ones feeling this way, we all do,” said Kreger.
Right now the VA has picked up this program and it remains free to veterans. Prevail Health’s goal is to make online therapy available to everyone. “There’s 60 million adults in the US that have mood disorders and its one of the top health care cost drivers and that’s where we are going with this and if we can get vets to do this, we can get anyone to,” said Gengler.
If you would like more information on this program go to www.vetsprevail.org. To speak to someone at Prevail Health go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think about this program? Maybe you know a veteran who could benefit?