VetChange Featured on Google’s Veteran Support Website.


VetChange Featured on Google’s Veteran Support Website

David Rosenbloom is part of a team of researchers who developed the online program to help veterans manage their drinking and PTSD symptoms.

November 21, 2020
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Military veterans experience disproportionate rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder, but more than half of veterans aren’t actually receiving the mental health care that they need. Accessing affordable care, overcoming stigmas associated with mental health treatment, and fear of an invasion of privacy are just a few of the barriers that veterans face in deciding whether to seek psychological services.

To address these challenges, Google recently launched Serving Veterans, an online platform designed to improve the way veterans can find support for their PTSD symptoms, substance use, and other mental health challenges, both online and in person. It offers a wide range of support, from local VA locations and substance use treatment services, to personal reflections from military leaders and the veteran community on the importance of destigmatizing mental health treatment and reaching out for help when it’s needed.

The new site also features VetChange, an online self-management program that helps veterans manage their drinking and PTSD symptoms resulting from military deployment. The program was developed in 2011 in a collaboration among the School of Public Health, School of Medicine, and VA Boston Healthcare System, with support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Center for PTSD, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Education Development Center, and now, Google.

As a virtual program, VetChange serves as a critical bridge to mental health support for veterans who may be hesitant or unable to access services in person—particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited in-person medical care and exacerbated stressors that are leading veterans and others to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“We’re very excited about this partnership with Google because VetChange will now have the promotion that it needs to be widely used,” says David Rosenbloom, professor of health law, policy & management, and who has served as the SPH principal investigator of the project since its inception. “We built this site to essentially replicate what might go on in a clinical setting in which the clinician would work with the patient to help them understand their triggers for drinking, and and lay out a plan to reduce their drinking.”

The site originally launched about a decade ago, after US military members began to return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with PTSD symptoms and alcohol-related problems, he says.

“There was evidence that drinking and PTSD were related, and our hypothesis was that if we could help people reduce harmful drinking, they would be able to simultaneously reduce their PTSD symptoms,” Rosenbloom says. With a research team led by Deborah Brief and Terence Keane, both staff members at the VA Boston and assistant professors of psychiatry and psychology at MED, Rosenbloom conducted a randomized clinical trial with 600 veteran participants that demonstrated that the site’s weekly web-based modules helped participants reduce their alcohol consumption and PTSD symptoms by 25 percent.

After that data was collected, VetChange received funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb and the National Center for PTSD to become a public-facing site in 2013. The current partnership with Google will expand its reach to millions of veterans seeking support. The site is listed on the Serving Veterans homepage, under “Veterans Service Organizations.”

Organized around an interactive dashboard, one primary feature of VetChange is its flexibility—veterans are able to set their own pace as they decide whether they’re ready to reduce their drinking, and they can set their own goals, track their progress, and utilize tools and tips on the platform to help them cope with stress, anger, sleeping problems, and other emotions or situations that can trigger drinking.

The public interaction with VetChange since the October 13 Google launch has been excellent, says Rosenbloom. “On the first day of the launch, a few hundred people visited the site, and more than dozen enrolled and used the site, so that’s very encouraging. We’re delighted to see it available for broad use.”

Rosenbloom says discussions are also underway to incorporate VetChange into the VA’s COVID-19 response.

“Like everyone else, the VA has made a major shift to telemedicine during the pandemic,” says Rosenbloom. “They’re seeing a substantial increase in alcohol use around the country. Veterans are seeking help, but clinicians are strained because of the limits on in-person visits. So we think that expanding VetChange within the VA is going to be a major contributor to successful interventions during COVID-19.”

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VetChange Featured on Google’s Veteran Support Website

  • Jillian McKoy

    Senior Writer and Editor

    Jillian McKoy is the senior writer and editor at the School of Public Health. Profile

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