News Details

New “virtual” therapy is a lifeline for veteran with PTSD

by Melissa Adan

Source: NBC Latino
Published: Thursday 18 July, 2013

Ruben Moreno Garcia during his deployment in Iraq where he served the Army as an engineer for six years. Photo courtesy of Ruben Moreno Garcia.

The hardest part about getting help is asking for it —that’s what Ruben Moreno Garcia says.

Moreno Garcia — an Iraq war veteran — sought out mental health therapy in El Centro, California, three years after serving in the Army as an engineer.

“I knew I had a huge problem with my psychological issue with depression and other things that come from war, like the military mentality that ‘you don’t seek help,’” said Moreno Garcia. “And until I faced it I couldn’t improve myself and I couldn’t get better.”

His therapy sessions, however, are not in an office. They involve a login, computer software, and most importantly: an Internet connection. This enables Moreno Garcia, who works in Yuma, Arizona, to “see” his psychologist Kathryn Williams, in her office in La Jolla, California.

“I have a psychologist whenever I really need it,” says Moreno Garcia about the pilot program he participated in with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “When you need help, help will be right there.”

The VA just launched a new program that allows veterans to virtually see their psychologist – any place, any time – by conducting video conferencing sessions with their patients through software like Cisco Jabber or Skype.

For the 31-year-old veteran, the video conferencing program allows him to meet with Williams once a week, online, at convenient hours, to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I think it’s a great tool, [veterans] have really busy lives, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get the help that they need,” says Williams, who is currently seeing six veterans. “It’s the wave of the future with this.”

Native to Mexicali, at the age of 15 Garcia and his family immigrated to the U.S. Five years later he finished schooling with a degree in engineering, enlisted in the Army, and became a U.S. citizen. Three deployments later, he was happily married with a daughter in Berlin.

Until, Moreno Garcia says, he went numb.

“When you are in war you’re exposed to traumatic things and you learn to say I don’t have time to deal with that and you put it in the bag,” says Moreno Garcia. “You see your buddy blow up, but you don’t have time for that and you say ‘I don’t have time to feel my own feelings.’”

Two years later, he forced himself to leave his wife and daughter overseas in order to move back to the U.S. Once home, his family had a difficult time dealing with his PTSD.

Williams agreed there is a huge stigma with mental health and this VA program has opened up the doors to help people reach out.

“[Veterans] see it as a sign of weakness to get help, and when they see someone they respect get help, they can get better and transform their lives,” said Williams.

His mother, Thelma Moreno, is his number one supporter through his therapy. She says she thanks God for bringing her son home.

“Through everything he’s gone through he has maintained a job, been responsible,” she says, explaining he supports his daughter despite being away. “He maintained his health, he has done it,” says Moreno.

Moreno Garcia highly encourages other veterans to seek help. The help they need, he says, is out there.

“I want to reach others that felt as lost as I did and didn’t have a clue what I was feeling – of not knowing and being stuck in that situation it’s very consuming,” he said. “The VA is adapting and evolving with technology, there are many different ways for them to be helped.”

For two-and-a-half years, Moreno Garcia has not missed his weekly online session with his psychologist and says he is well and on his way to finding himself.

“All those knots that I had in my head I’ve been able to put away,” says Moreno Garcia. “Now I have putting a lot away and my pile is a lot smaller.”