UCF program treats war veterans with PTSD

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ORLANDO, Fla. - A new program is being used at the University of Central Florida to treat war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

For veterans with PTSD, even the most ordinary things like the smell of diesel fuel or certain spices can bring back memories of war.

“The people coming back from this war say that more than sights and more than sounds, smells seem to be what’s triggering their traumatic events,” said Dr. Deborah Beidel of the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic.

A recent study found nearly 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets treated by Veterans Affairs were suffering from PTSD, and vets who served multiple tours are three times as likely as soldiers with no deployments to screen positive for the disorder.

To help vets recover, the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic started a three-year program, supported by the U.S. military. Vets are put into a virtual reality environment called Virtual Iraq. The simulator is a sensory immersion into all the stimuli that can spark fear including sights, sounds and smells.

The exposure therapy’s based on a theory that repeated exposure to triggers can lessen the power they have to set off alarms deep inside the brain.

As effective as the exposure therapy is, vets said another part of the program is just as important.

They also meet regularly in group session to talk about what they experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they’re adjusting to life at home.