Post-deployment life can be challenging for veterans and their families, and both need support during this transition. Challenges can include PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and suicidal thoughts. Estimates show that Virginia active duty and veterans have a combined suicide rate of 25.6 per 100,000.
By comparison, the overall rate for Virginia civilians over ages 18 and over was 13.0 for the same time period (Virginia Violent Death Reporting System, 2012). The Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Suicide Prevention Program offers Family of Heroes, an online simulation that gives families of Virginia’s veterans and active duty service members the chance to learn critical skills to manage the challenges of adjusting to post-deployment life.
“Adjusting to post-deployment life can present some significant challenges for the returning veteran and their families. Family of Heroes equips families with information and skills to help make the transition smoother,” says State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP. “Importantly, the training also helps family members recognize if their loved one is at risk for suicide or PTSD, and gives them tools to get help quickly.”
In the one-hour simulation, users enter a virtual environment, assume the roles of different family members and engage in three realistic practice conversations with virtual veterans who act and respond like real veterans experiencing different types of post-deployment stress. Conversation scenarios are based on real stories gathered in interviews with veterans and their families.
“As a military spouse, I’m particularly thankful for the Family of Heroes resource for our military and veteran families,” says Brandi Jancaitis, executive director Virginia Wounded Warrior Program. “Often it is a family member who notices first that their service member is not quite the same after a combat deployment, military training or other event, and equipping them with the skills to promote help-seeking behaviors is paramount.”
Funding and support for this program is made available by VDH and the Virginia Wounded Warriors Project, and is the result of a collaboration between Kognito, mental health experts at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and military families.
Family of Heroes has been proven effective in a randomized controlled study and is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (nrepp.samhsa.gov) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Best Practices Registry. It was also awarded a gold medal in the government/military category at the 2012 International Serious Play Awards. A video featuring testimonials from veterans and their families is available at www.vimeo.com/28357942.