Thought Leadership

Virtual Reality Technology for Military Health

Virtual Reality Technology for Military Health

CPBy Clint Parr

More than just for realistic video games, Virtual Reality (VR) technology is helping American military personnel recover from battlefield injuries and more.

There’s a good chance that you’ve seen or heard about advances in Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Most of what you’ve experienced has probably been teenagers playing video games or experiencing immersive 3D cinematic experiences like never before. While this is the case, there is one sphere of VR research and development happening behind the scenes that will have a more dramatic impact on the protectors of Americans — military servicemen and servicewomen.

What Exactly is VR Technology?

For the majority of us who haven’t directly encountered VR technology, our understanding may be somewhat limited. Virtual Reality (VR) is the interaction with a simulated environment that has been produced using advanced computer systems. These environments can vary from fantastical worlds to immensely realistic or even presently existing places. Donning wearable headset screens, headphones, and other hardware, users can often interact with these simulated spaces in practical ways. This unique opportunity to immerse the senses in a controlled, simulated environment has tremendous potential for the benefit of the training, health, and wellbeing of United States military service members.

VR for Military Physical Therapy

It may seem odd to consider that being immersed in a simulated place could benefit military service personnel who have endured physical injuries, but this is the case. Inspired by dental offices who had begun to invest in immersive VR gaming systems to distract patients during painful procedures, increased interest has been applied to the world of pain management through VR experiences. Among burn wound patients in particular, due to the immensely painful nature of essential treatment (dressing replacement, tissue cleanings, staple and stitch maintenance — which can be as painful as the initial injury itself), pain management is one of the top priorities.

While narcotics and other pain management drugs are frequently utilized, many are not strong enough to fully alleviate pain. For this reason, many research hospitals, universities, and private organizations have been researching and developing advanced VR technologies to help reduce pain through immersive simulated environments. Using calming settings and even mentally challenging games, researchers have developed programs designed to help distract burn victims during their severely painful treatments during recovery. As more realistic VR technologies are developed along with input from pain management professionals, the future of pain management for injured military personnel is immensely promising.

VR Technology for Military Psychological Treatment

One of the most debilitating injuries facing military service members today is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For someone experiencing post-traumatic stress, seemingly ordinary or innocent scenarios can trigger immense anxiety or other severe emotional reactions. To cope with these, many people living with PTSD take drastic measures to avoid potentially triggering situations. Avoidance measures can severely limit their career opportunities, interfere with relationships, and otherwise diminish their quality of life. To conquer avoidance behaviors, many psychologists will recommend exposure therapy — recreating the scenarios or triggers that may induce traumatic episodes to help the patient overcome triggering situations or memories. One tool for exposure therapy that is growing in popularity with treatment professionals is the use of VR technology.

For service members experiencing symptoms of PTSD, seemingly benign stimuli can trigger traumatic episodes. Using VR technology in a controlled environment with the oversight of a medical professional can help those with therapeutic approaches to deescalating the perceived threat of triggering sensations. VR technology gives treatment specialists complete control over the simulated environment experienced by the patient. This allows specialists to tailor customized exposure therapy sessions to help service members regain a higher quality of life.

VR Technology to Train Military Medical Personnel

For a medical service member, active combat scenarios are especially challenging. Not only is the likelihood of a traumatic injury dramatically increased, but the chaos and spontaneity of the circumstances are difficult to properly prepare for outside of actual war-time experience. While military training exercises are helpful, many are expensive, personnel-intensive, and potentially dangerous. To help train medical service members in the armed forces, one increasingly beneficial tool has been the use of Virtual Reality training simulations.

Much like a video game, immersive VR technology can offer military medical personnel hyper-realistic simulations of chaotic active combat scenarios. These VR simulations not only help medical personnel retain their focus amidst immense distraction but also provide physically accurate representations of treatment scenarios. From treating wounds on the battlefield to sensitive surgical operations, VR technology is making American military medical personnel better equipped to handle the most demanding treatment challenges.


SENTIR Research Labs enthusiastically supports groundbreaking development in Virtual Reality technologies. You’re invited to explore SENTIR’s research opportunities within VR or elite prospects to support these endeavors.

Learn more about SENTIR Research Labs.