Ahead of Veterans Day this weekend, National Geographic (in a partnership with 360i) will release the first-ever voice activated meditation app designed specifically for veterans, with the aim of providing another tool to enhance mental health support for America’s veteran community.
According to a report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an average of twenty veterans a day died from suicide in 2014 , making the risk for suicide among veterans 21 percent greater than among the civilian population. Several factors contribute to these findings, including stigma surrounding mental illness and lack of access to resources.
Despite the belief that all veterans have access to VA benefits, the reality is that less than half of all U.S. veterans actually receive their healthcare through the VA, due either to not qualifying or to living too far from a facility. This leaves nearly 1 in 10 veterans either relying on health care with limited benefits for mental health or, in some cases, without any healthcare benefits at all. The designers of the new app, which launches this week, hope to change this.
Inspired by National Geographic’s series “The Long Road Home,” which chronicles the lives of veterans and their families through deployment and post-deployment, the app was designed in partnership with former Air Force psychologist Dr. Michael Valdovinos. During his 7 years with the Air Force, Valdovinos was exposed to mindfulness-based practices, such as yoga and meditation, implementing them in the mental health treatment of active duty members. Seeing their effectiveness, he developed exercises based on these interventions to specifically address complaints common among veterans and active duty members. These include PTSD and depression as well as other lesser-known issues related to sleep, pain, loneliness, and difficulties in relationships and with families. The exercises in the new app are based on his developments.
When thinking about the design of the app, the creators wanted to make it as easy as possible to navigate, allowing users to get what they need quickly while also being sensitive to those who don’t have the freedom of mobility. “The app serves as a tool for complex behavioral health issues specific to veterans,” says Valdovinos , “providing stigma-free services without cost and from the comfort of one’s home.”
The app can also make phone calls for the user, connecting them to nationwide resources “without the need to go through all of these websites” and “without having to go through traditional routes that often come with bureaucratic barriers like lack of funding and research. Technology is an easy way to provide resources in a way that is effective and safe,” Valdovinos added.
According to the designers, the app will provide options for veterans while modernizing the current veteran technology infrastructure. The app, available across any device, will be fully voice powered using a language-based interface. To access, users can simply download Google Assistant and then ask the app to open “Bravo Tango Brain Training” by either typing or speaking. “It is intuitive and will engage users,” say developers.
Valdovinos makes it clear that the app is neither a replacement for therapy nor a treatment for significant mental health issues. Instead, it is an access point that will allow veterans to get their feet wet when it comes to receiving treatment. “My hope” he says, “is that it will provide a bridge to therapy within the veteran community by helping them see what it's like to address some of these issues, with the hope that they will find it helpful and be more open to seeking treatment.”
The new app, Bravo Tango Brain Training, launches today, November 9, 2017.
Users of Android phones and Google Home devices can launch the app by saying “OK Google, talk to Bravo Tango.” iPhone owners can do the same after downloading the Google Assistant app.
Valdovinos, M. (2017, November 7). Phone interview.