Applications that help military veterans

PTSD Coach
For over 10 years, the armed forces of the United States and her allies have been engaged in active combat operations in Asia and the Middle East. While the ethical, moral and legal arguments about these campaigns have been, and will continue to be debated, there is no doubt that military assets and personnel have seen their endurance tested to the limit.

Taking those obvious debates aside, there are a myriad of issues that are arising with veterans from all nations after repeated deployments and combat engagements. These operations have resulted in multiple challenges not just for veterans, but their families and communities as well. The most prevailing injury out of the wars is traumatic brain injury (TBI) along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The reason why this is so much more of an issue compared to previous conflicts is because it is simply harder to kill the modern soldier. Ballistic armor, up-armored vehicles, and mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles have all played a role in protecting the service member. The response from enemy elements has been to create a bigger explosion, a bigger blast to break through the armor and cause harm. Even then, much of the time, the blasts fail to penetrate NATO armor. However, the concussive effect, the shockwave of the blast does. Couple that with the physical impact of the blast, sudden, jerking movements causing the heads of the occupants to hit panels inside the vehicle, now there is the risk of TBI being introduced, and the continued combat engagements overwork the stress coping mechanisms in the human psyche which, in turn, contribute to PTSD. While TBI has a physical component to it, that is not always the case with PTSD.

The result is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to treat the myriad of symptoms that recovering servicemen and women contend with unfortunately. TBI is often accompanied by symptoms of PTSD. Both conditions can present obstacles to service members when they return from deployment. Quite often, due to the cohesive nature of combat and support units, the military environment can suppress or abate symptoms which can then be more apparent after returning to civilian life. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available which assist in self-monitoring of one’s condition and recommends courses of action manage problems when they arise. These applications make use of common techniques, and also utilize a standard 17-question PTSD Checklist (PCL).

These applications, available for iOS and Android, are designed to assist veterans, or anyone who has been dealing with PTSD. Several of them were designed in whole or in part by teams within the US Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, and the Center for Deployment Psychology. For the record, we did look through the Windows Phone Market and BlackBerry App World and there are no companion apps available for those platforms at this time. There are a couple of privately developed apps there, but they are not free and they do not appear to have been downloaded or reviewed. Now, we will take a look at some applications that might provide assistance. This is not meant to be a complete list, Google Play and iTunes have dozens of applications related to the condition. Some of them are free, others are not.

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PTSD Coach

The PTSD Coach is a fairly comprehensive self-assessment and symptom management application which provides a fair amount of depth with each component of the app. Divided into four primary functions, PTSD Coach provides tools to learn about the condition, the ways it can be treated and helps you track the intensity of your symptoms as well as offer methods to abate them when things get too intense. The app also provides ways to get help as well as let you set up your own support channel for easy access to contacts that can help you.


LifeArmor takes a broader approach and provides ways to learn about and assess your condition stemming from life altering events resulting from physical injuries, family transition issues, depression, anxiety, alcohol use and more in addition to TBI and PTSD. Within each category, LifeArmor provides specific learning guides, assessments, tool to help as well as short videos of people relating and working through the same problems.

In addition to the different categories of issues, the application also provides a myriad of basic tools to provide simple suggestions which may help keep you grounded, get comfortable enough to sleep and help locate resources.  The app also lets you tie in contacts for quick access to call a friend if needed.

PE Coach

PE Coach deals with “prolonged exposure” to symptoms stemming from the traumatic event, develop in to PTSD and addresses how they fade over time. The application assesses and tracks based on two primary factors that maintain PTSD, avoidance of situations and avoidance of unhelpful thoughts.

Avoidance helps in the near term, but can make problems worse in the long term since the mind is prevented from actually processing people, places and things that might trigger the impulse to take actions.

PE Coach uses two forms of exposure to help the mind process and relax in the face of thoughts or situations that PTSD sufferers avoid. The first is imaginal exposure which revisits the traumatic memories and involves recounting the events out loud. The second is called In Vivo exposure, which involves physically confronting activities which have been avoided in a gradual manner, using progressively more difficult challenges to overcome.

Exposure therapy is very effective and its two-pronged approach in dealing with situations and the memories of the situations provides a gradual means to reduce the symptoms or alleviate them altogether. PE Coach is meant to be used as part of a treatment plan with a clinician.

PFA Mobile

PFA Mobile (PFA stands for Psychological First Aid) is designed to assist first responders in rendering care to victims of traumatic events. Developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, National Center for TeleHealth and Technology and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the app not only helps the first responder to assist victims, it also provides a means for the first responder to track their own condition and determine if some environments should be avoided. The app provides guides for establishing contact, gather information, link to support services, and more. PFA Mobile is not available for Android.

We found few, if any, bugs in these applications. Seeing as they were developed through government agencies, updates to the apps will be slow and methodical. In the PTSD Coach application, we did notice a couple bugs with both the Android and iOS app. In Android, some selections resulted in a blank screen and in iOS, some links designed to use your location in helping find nearby assistance did not work on the iPhone 5 we used.

Given how diverse the symptoms and their relative intensity can be from one person to the next, these apps are nicely situated, and flexible enough to at least introduce veterans or others suffering from PTSD to ways to manage symptoms. In addition to the applications that are available, the major smartphone platforms themselves each have distinct features which can be of benefit to those dealing with problems arising from PTSD or TBI. In a separate write-up, which we will be posting very soon, we examine some of the specific features between iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone that provide distinct functionality that can aid those working through various stress and brain related injuries.

If you or a friend have been dealing with problems related to PTSD, whatever the cause, check out these and other applications. If you have been working with programs like these as well as doctors and clinicians, know that support is available, check out or call 855-VET-TALK (855-838-8255).

If you feel you have exhausted all options and there is nowhere left to turn, the VA's Veterans Crisis Line is available at 800-273-8255, option 1, gets you to the front of the line for help.  The website, also features IM-chat.  There are similar resources available to veterans in many other countries.

Some of these ideas seem like obvious courses of action to take, but the conditions themselves, coupled with the training and subsequent harsh environments, create a desire to withdraw from all sorts of activities and environments that the rest of us take for granted.  Indeed, it may take a forceful nudge of a friend or family member to seek help.  For veterans wound up by just making the decision, seeking help is not the same as surrendering.  Seeking and using available help is adding tools to your own arsenal to face challenges seen in the service, and in civilian life.  These apps are only a small part of the equation, but as technologically connected as we are, they can play a vital, integral and unobtrusive role in assisting those who contend with these conditions.

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