VA and Microsoft partner to provide Xbox controllers to vets with limited mobility.

Erica Walsh/Microsoft

VA and Microsoft partner to help vets rehab with new Xbox controller

May 06, 2019 - 11:20 am
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By Ben Krimmel

Microsoft and the Department of Veterans Affairs have announced a new collaboration to help veterans with limited mobility get back in the game.

Thanks to the new Xbox Adaptive Controller a game controller made for people with limited mobility. The tech giant is helping provide Xbox controllers and services to vets as a part of their therapeutic and rehabilitative activities to help challenge muscle activation and hand-eye coordination and increase participation in social and recreational activities.

“This partnership is another step toward achieving VA’s strategic goals of providing excellent customer experiences and business transformation,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “VA remains committed to offering solutions for Veterans’ daily life challenges.”

Gaming is a popular activity among the military and vet community — but using a traditional game controller is a big obstacle for many injured veterans, and losing out on this activity was a big blow for many in the community.

“We’re looking for platforms for veterans to interact with each other, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller can be that access point to get involved in this world and in the gaming community," said Dr. Leif Nelson of the National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events at the VA.

And while many still see playing video games as a lonely activity, it is actually the opposite for many.

"Gaming is now everywhere in the world, and while people tend to think of it as isolating, we’re finding that it actually has the opposite effect and can increase interactions with other veterans and folks who are non-veterans. I think this can be a tool in the rehabilitation process to achieve a lot of different goals," Dr. Nelson said.

Jeff Holguin, who was discharged for the U.S. Coast Guard after an injury, used gaming as a way to cope with the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After losing a career in the military, he lost part of his identity and felt adrift in the civilian world. And so he turned to gaming.

“It gave me an outlet, a virtual efficacy within a world that I didn’t feel like I had a place in anymore,” Holguin said. “I made a lot of social connections and friends through that virtual space.”

Mike Monthervil, a U.S. Army veteran injured in Afghanistan, sees gaming as a big help in his recovery. “I think gaming is helping soldiers like myself getting back to doing what they love and bringing joy into their lives.”

And the benefits extend beyond the social. 

“We can assign a number of therapeutic values to gaming," said recreation therapist Jamie Kaplan. "It’s fine motor skills, gross motor skills, decision-making ability, information processing, cognitive processing and we’re able to use the game in their treatment plans.”

Microsoft is donating the controllers, game consoles, games, and other adaptive equipment in the hopes of bringing gaming to veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, and neurological or other injuries at 22 VA medical centers across the US. 

“We owe so much to the service and sacrifice of our Veterans, and as a company, we are committed to supporting them,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said. “Our Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed to make gaming more accessible to millions of people worldwide, and we’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to bring the device to Veterans with limited mobility, connecting them to the games they love and the people they want to play with.”

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