Snip from a story I filed for today's Wired News about a new virtual reality system designed for treating Iraq vets suffering from acute combat stress:
As part of an ongoing trial [at the San Diego Naval Hospital, Dr. James L.] Spira treats Marine and Navy personnel with the system. Some of his PTSD patients are veterans; others remain on active duty. One of the patients Spira worked with in the VR therapy trial was a Marine sniper, the sole survivor of an attack in which he witnessed at close range the violent deaths of fellow squad members.
"One of them was cut in half, literally, with machine-gun fire. (My patient) ran out on impulse to help him, and was shot in the arm and leg. He picked up the body, scooped up the intestines, brought him back to their vehicle as the guy looked up at him and spoke, dying. His squad truck headed back with them for safety, and was then hit by IED (improvised explosive device), which killed everyone but him." The Marine was rescued and transported to a hospital, and eventually returned to the United States, where he started VR treatment with Spira.
"Snipers are very tough in general, and during the session, he kept saying, 'I'm fine.' But I had him hooked up with physiological monitors, and when I asked him to tell the story of what happened, his system went through the roof.
"He flew out of his wheelchair in public once, and started pounding on a guy who said we shouldn't be in Iraq," Spira said. "But over time, as the therapy continued, he became calmer and was able to get along with people better."