Tag Archives: PTSD

Military Developing Brain Implants to Boost Memory and Heal PTSD




“Wireless devices intended to aid troops’ cognitive abilities both during and after wars.

If work being backed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) goes according to plan, we one day will be able to implant chips into our brains that will make sure we never forget anything.

And although this sounds like science fiction—perhaps a movie starring Keanu Reeves from the 90s—it’s quickly becoming a reality. Scientists have already tested out implants in people suffering from brain injuries to improve their memory, the defense agency announced at a conference in September.

DARPA has multiple brain-improvement projects in the works, but its Restoring Active Memory project (or RAM, an apparent play on the acronym for a type of computer memory) has a goal of restoring the memory functions of US soldiers returning from the battlefield with traumatic brain injuries. According to theAtlantic’s Annie Jacobsen, 300,000 soldiers came home from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries. DARPA’s program aims to develop an implantable, wireless device that could aid those soldiers’ cognitive abilities both during and after wars.

To start, DARPA is working to figure out how neurons in the human brain actually encode memories—a daunting task in and of itself. Once those processes have been mapped out, scientists would then work to create computer models to mimic how the brain functions, with the end goal of being able to implant devices that could trigger those processes if neurons, or the connections between neurons, get damaged.

Related: The Military Is Building Brain Chips to Treat PTSD

At the September conference, DARPA said it had implanted temporary sensors into patients undergoing brain surgery, according to Popular Science. Scientists were able to detect signals in the patients’ brains during the process of forming and recalling memories. In the future, DARPA wants to develop permanent, “closed loop” systems that can actually help with memory recall.

“As the technology of these fully implantable devices improves, and as we learn more about how to stimulate the brain ever more precisely to achieve the most therapeutic effects,” Justin Sanchez, DARPA’s biological technologies program manager, told Popular Science at the conference. “I believe we are going to gain a critical capacity to help our wounded warriors and others who today suffer from intractable neurological problems.”

The RAM project was first unveiled by President Obama in 2014, as part of the funding for DARPA’s wider brain initiative. At that time, the agency, working with the Veterans Affairs department and the Pentagon, announced it will spend the next five years—and nearly $80 million—developing “minimally invasive neurotechnologies that will increase the ability of the body and brain to induce healing,” according to The Washington Post. As part of the funding, DARPA is also researching building robotic limbs that humans can control with their minds, and ways for the human body to heal itself with remote controls.”


Top U.S. Commando Tells Troops: Get Counseling, I Did


Votel_official_photo_USSOCOM                                                   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Votel


“I have, with my family, sought counseling and assistance,” said Special Operations Command’s General Joseph Votel…

In laymen’s terms, a body under constant threat that goes on missions night after night pumps out adrenaline at such a constant rate that it gets out of whack and can’t readily adjust to the relatively threat-free environment at home.

The therapy can help troops deal with the grief of losing a teammate or unlock a traumatic memory so the brain can stop going over it repeatedly. But sometimes, the counseling is simply to train an operator to “down regulate” after deployment.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Suicides by special operators have fallen for two years straight. But the rates are still among the highest in the military. And that’s prompting the ordinarily tight-lipped commander of the elite forces to speak frankly about seeking help, and all but ordering his troops to do the same.

The high rate of special operations suicides as compared to the other services reflects the strain of more than a decade of deployments since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—a trend that continues for special operators even as most conventional forces come home.

It also reflects the continued stigma against seeking counseling that is arguably even fiercer among special operators than conventional forces. It literally goes against their training, which often requires pushing through pain to reach a target on the battlefield.

Votel, who last led the elite Joint Special Operations Command, said that is changing, with more special operators seeking help.

“I’m also seeing an increase in friends, in peers, in numbers in the chain of command who are referring to their people for help, without any further ramifications,” in terms of their careers, he said.

The famously reticent U.S. Army Ranger is speaking out because he faced a suicide crisis shortly after taking charge last summer.

In the four months from August to November of 2014, there were seven apparent suicides, five suicide attempts, and 14 cases where troops were hospitalized for “suicide ideation,” meaning they were considering taking their own life.

“We are not winning this battle yet and we need your help,” Votel wrote in a November 2014 missive to his troops, obtained by The Daily Beast.

Votel pointed to one bit of silver lining in that those 14 cases of “ideation” meant someone—either the operator, a family member or a fellow operator—had spotted the problem and intervened.

“When our leadership or people identify a person who is exhibiting behavior that indicates they may harm themselves—we act quickly,” Votel wrote.

Since then, Votel has ordered stepped-up training of how to spot the signs of stress, and the Pentagon has worked to make more counseling resources available to his people.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Almost a fifth of special operators anonymously surveyed by Doolittle’s office this year reported that they’d sought out some form of behavioral health support, with most of them going to the psychologist, counselor or chaplain who is part of their unit, Doolittle said. That’s up from only 15 percent of those surveyed last year and 11 percent the year before.

“I can think of several peers and senior enlisted [officers] that have gone through various forms of psychological treatment,” said Doolittle.

“Some kept it on the down-low, but some folks have been very vocal,” which has helped degrade the view of seeking counseling as weakness, he said.

What has arguably helped the most is embedding psychologists and other types of counselors available in special operations units and also borrowing the practice of using “military family life counselors” for operators and families alike. They provide what some troops refer to as “Starbucks therapy”—meetings outside the base that don’t appear in the service member’s record, or even get written down at all.

“When you are talking about convincing the guy to drive across base and go see a psych at a medical treatment facility—quite honestly, we’ve had problems with that,” Doolittle said. But give them a chance to talk to someone they see in the gym and the chow hall every day, and there’s less stigma—one reason chaplains in places like Afghanistan invest in expensive coffeemakers to plant outside their offices to give troops one more reason to stop by.

“For every one operator or support person that’s gone to a medical treatment facility, roughly another three are going to that ‘embedded’ care [team],” Doolittle said.

In 2015, there will be a total of 131 special operations-specific behavioral health professionals “embedded” in SOCOM units and bases, up from just 60 in 2013.

That’s on top of dozens more made available by the various services who are both embedded in special operations units and across the military health system.

There are also counselors available to help families get re-acquainted after multiple deployments that can turn an operator into a stranger in his or her own home.

The harder-to-teach skills are convincing an operator to incorporate breathing or meditation into their daily training and getting regular sleep, so their brains can process and deal with the memories of whatever they saw during the day.

But SOCOM is trying to teach that, too, experimenting with programs that teach everything from yoga to “accelerated resolution therapy,” in which an operator replays an incident in his or her head like a movie, allowing the brain to “process” the tough memory and put it away.

The sting in the tail: Those who don’t take aim at their issues end up in a spiral of drinking, divorce, and worse, and end up out of the brotherhood that is the reason they stay quiet about the trauma in the first place.

That’s why the leading quiet professional Votel is slightly less silent when it comes to suicide.”


What It Means To Kill in Combat




“If a war fails to achieve its stated objectives—as Vietnam did—it can make the reasons for killing even harder to accept. Some recent vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the psychiatrist, are already asking, “What was it all for?”

This is not to cast troops who kill in combat as victims. They shouldcarry the weight of what they did. But they should not be forced to carry it alone. Their leadership, from the company level all the way to the Chief of Staff, is part of every killing that’s carried out. So too are the civilian architects of these wars. And the rest of us bear some responsibility as well. The killing a country does through its soldiers is part of its fabric and identity. The less it is examined, the less a country will know about itself, its impulses, and the impact of what it has trained and dispatched its sons and daughters to do.

A more honest conversation about what war is and what war does is a good place to start. Those now calling for boots on the ground in Iraq, Syria, or anywhere else, should be first to have it. They should understand and explain exactly what it will mean if troops are deployed, and they should press the military to give its charges tools that not only help them kill when they should, but also how to live with the killing they’ve done later in life. More counseling must be made available as well, as part of the broader overhaul of the VA, and steps taken to remove the stigma that still exists around seeking help for the psychological wounds of war. And no one should ask a veteran if he or she has killed anybody unless they really want to hear the answer—and are prepared to listen.”