Stack Up and VR Gamers Support Emotional Wellness of Veterans and Deployed Service Members

Isolation, job loss and illness have hit almost everyone in the past 18 months, but the impact of Covid-19 on the population as a whole continues to highlight the need for focused support for groups already at increased risk of suicide and other mental health issues. Veterans and military personnel fall into this category, and VR gamers do their best to improve these individuals’ emotional wellbeing through hands-on support and encouragement.

The nonprofit Stack Up brings together veterans, active military and civilian supporters through a shared love of games and events like the Onward Stack Up Tournament to fund useful programs, but before we get into Stack Up and the Charity VR event , let’s take a look at the challenges.

The suicide rate among veterans is 1.5 times higher than Americans who have never served in the military, and there were over 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Veterans.

In October 2020, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs released a watchdog report covering the first few months of the pandemic. The beginning of a global tragedy led to increasing isolation, anxiety, anxiety, financial stress and depression. The Veterans Crisis Line saw an increase and although demand slowed to pre-pandemic levels through May, the need for continued support remains unchanged.

Suicide rates among people in the United States have increased over the past 20 years, and prior to the pandemic, just over one in ten adults (11%) reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosable anxiety or depressive disorder in the first half of 2019. That number had risen to 41% by January 2021.

Warning signals

According to the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, many veterans at risk of imminent suicide may not show signs of an urge to harm themselves. Given that nearly half of all veterans own at least one gun, and 68% of veterans who commit suicide die from self-inflicted gun injuries (compared to 48% of non-veteran suicides), identifying and identifying signs of depression is important to combat or increase mental illnesses such as:

  • Most of the time discouraged, scared, irritated
  • Bad sleeping habits, sleeping a lot or not at all
  • Decreased care and personal hygiene
  • Increased self-isolation from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in things that were previously important to them, including hobbies, work, social activities
  • Expression of meaninglessness in life, feelings of guilt or shame, unresolved relationships or problems
  • Increased willingness to take risks

Unfortunately, due to the isolation caused by the pandemic, we are not always aware of the warning signs and this is where a supportive community can have a tremendous impact. Even when people don’t see friends or family in physical reality, they can still communicate in games or through online forums like Discord.

VR players use available tools and interact through immersive environments, creating friendship and trust between players. You can then encourage and support one another while providing a safe space for people to feel more comfortable asking for help.

Image credit: stacking

Stack up

Founded in 2015, Stack Up helps U.S. and Allied military personnel through the use of combat zones and in recovery from traumatic physical and emotional injuries with the power of video game.

“People who were already isolated continued to be isolated during the quarantine,” said Sean Kelly, Influencer Relations Manager at Stack Up.

Kelly, also known as “Diety” by his gaming friends, explains that Stack Up is based on the gaming or geek culture and that these common interests connect the community members.

“Elements of geek culture and video games in particular offer a certain relief, something else to focus on,” explains Kelly, who volunteered at Stack Up for nearly three years before starting 2019 as Influencer Relations Coordinator.

Kelly joined the US Army in 1995 as a Canon crew member and then worked in military intelligence and counterterrorism. Deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, and Afghanistan in 2006, he knows the problems veterans and active military personnel face.

“Gambling is a way to spend less time thinking about the bad experiences,” says Kelly, adding that games are also a way to create a stronger bond with your military family, which is important as these people face the unique challenges for active and experienced players understand military personnel.

Captain Stephen Machuga, Founder and CEO of Stack Up, tells the story of how video games saved his life after he returned from Iraq. The particular stress factor for him was leaving his house and seeing rubbish to be picked up, which brought back memories of Iraq, where insurgents hid explosives in heaps of rubbish so there was always a risk of one exploding while driving by.

A few weeks after Machuga returned home, he started playing the newly released World of Warcraft and was able to focus on driving around town to jump into his next mission in the game instead of being stressed out by the piles of trash. In 2010, when a friend rehired and was immediately shipped to Afghanistan, Machuga began sending thousands of dollars in donated games and equipment to units overseas.

Image credit: stacking

To be clear, it’s not that others haven’t supported active military personnel, but at times those efforts can be a little misguided.

“When I was in Iraq, our infantry company received a box full of third-hand romance novels from a library,” says Machuga. “We used them for target practice on the confiscated gun field, but there I realized: People wanted to help veterans, but they just didn’t know what we wanted.”

Overwatch program

There are several great programs at Stack Up to help veterans cope with the pressures of deployment, as well as recovery and transition after their return. A key support service is the Stack Up Overwatch Program (StOP), which is designed to watch over the community and provide critical non-clinical peer-to-peer support via Discord, on the phone, or via the app.

The StOP Squad is trained and certified to support crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Squad team members are HIPAA certified and conversations are kept strictly confidential. The StOP Squad is available 24 hours a day every day of the year and can provide resources, support services, or just a safe place to talk about issues veterans are facing. The services are available to everyone over the age of 18.

Supply boxes and air raid

In addition to the Overwatch program, Stack Up continues to follow the lead of Machuga’s initial efforts with hands-on support by sending care packs full of video games and nerd goodies to deployed service members in the U.S. and Allied Forces.

Supply boxes provide a healthy outlet for decompression and help prevent the onset of operational stress. Instead of focusing on the tragedies around them or how many days left in the theater, they can focus on something more positive with their fellow combatants.

Image credit: stacking

Air strikes are paid trips to video games and geek cultural events that allow veterans to connect with others who share their interests and support them. The goal is to provide veterans with an experience that they can look back on positively and feel encouraged for the future.

That’s how I originally found out about Stack Up when I met several veterans at Oculus Connect 5 in 2018. The event had a positive impact on both them and others and it was evident that there was mutual respect between developers and esports competitors, and veterans. People came from different backgrounds and had different roles, but we came together as a community of VR players.

Charity tournament

One group that Stack Up has been particularly supportive of is the VR gaming community of Onward, a Mil-Sim tactical first-person shooter from Downpour Interactive. Many Onward players have actively supported military veterans and in fact the veterans I met at Oculus Connect were there to watch an esports event with Onward.

“We all love and support our veterans and the active military. But the harsh reality is that they suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD and a lot more every day, ”says F. Lapinski, organizer of the Onward Stack Up tournament.

“Those who have sacrificed for us pay the price,” he adds.

The first Onward Stack Up tournament will take place September 4-5, with all donations and entry fees going towards Stack Up. There is currently a $ 2,000 prize pool with items from other supporting VR communities such as ProTube VR, VR Master League, VR Wear, Sanlaki, and The Hive / VRespawn.

There are two categories for the event: T-Rex for higher qualified teams and Spinosaurus for lower teams. Further details and rules can be found on the Onward Charity Tournament Discord Server.

  • Date: 4th-5th centuries September
  • Time: Starts at 2:00 p.m. EDT
  • Entry Fee: T-Rex Bracket $ 20 / player | Spinosaurus bracket $ 10 / player
  • Prizes: T-Rex winners will receive a MagTube shaft from ProTube VR that is completely tailored to each player, a VR Wear T-shirt, Sanlaki table tennis controller and an individual event team jersey. | Spinosaurus winners receive a Sanlaki weapon stock and a Sanlaki table tennis controller as well as a VR Wear T-shirt.
  • Watch live: The event will be streamed and cast via VRML Twitch channels.

Here you can donate directly to the Stack Up charity.

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