Air Force Hopes VR Can Help Reduce Suicides Among Airmen
The VR suicide prevention training built on tests the Air Force launched earlier this year with leaders from across the 60th Air Mobility Wing.
As part of the training, if participants do not get the virtual actor to seek help, a training coach comes in to help.
“We are excited and highly motivated to be the catalyst for this innovative suicide prevention program,” Brig. Gen. Norman West, Air Mobility Command surgeon general, said in a February press release. “The VR scenario is very realistic and this is the type of training we need to save lives in the real world. One life lost to suicide is too many.”
According to The New York Times, Air Force officials said earlier this year that they intend to train at least 10,000 airmen with the program in 2021.
According to data released on Sept. 30, the U.S. military saw a 15 percent increase in deaths by suicides across the service branches in 2020, with the increases largely driven by deaths in the Army National Guard, Army and Marine Corps. Deaths by suicide in the Air Force held steady at 109 compared to the year before.
“The training definitely puts you out of your comfort zone,” Tech. Sgt. William Parisse, a 6th ARW occupational safety technician who participated in the training, said in the DOD release. “It forces you to critically think about what you’re going to say or do, and depending on what you choose, that distressed person will react.”
The VR training has better prepared him for encounters with colleagues who seem to be in distress, Parisse said.
“We are just getting started,” Williams said. “We have already seen the impacts VR has had with SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) training and we are eager to provide our Airmen with these innovative resources. Ultimately, it allows them to push themselves further, in order to be as prepared as possible to save someone’s life.”