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New apps aim to help vets with post-traumatic stress

An Iraq War veteran, (who asked for anonymity) sits and drinks a beer beside the symbolic graves of fallen friends, Sgt. Eric Snell and Pfc Michael Pittman, both from his former unit, the 1st Infantry Division, at the Arlington West Memorial on Memorial Day in Santa Monica, Calif. on May 30, 2011.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, commonly referred to as T2, operates out of building at the Lewis-McChord military facility near Tacoma, Wash. Its mission is to develop technologies to meet the need the health needs of military personnel. On this Veteran's Day, we take a look at some of the work the center has been doing with apps designed for mobile phones.

Dr. Robert Ciulla is chief of population and prevention programs for T2. He says the Mood Tracker app isn't all that high-tech; it's just a handy way for veterans involved in mental health care to keep track of their moods. It's a practice that clinicians have been prescribing for years by simply giving the patient a piece of paper and a pencil.

"The problem with that," Ciulla says, "is that they'd put it on a magnet on the fridge, forget it, and back-fill prior to the session. Mood Tracker allows a person to literally at the hip pocket access the tool and record or monitor their moods according to variety of scales on an as-needed and in-moment basis. The nice thing about that, since data is electronically calculated, we can look at accurate data. As a clinician, we want to be able to teach individuals how to track their moods and behaviors. It's a forerunner to being able to produce behavioral change."

T2 has also released Breathe 2 Relax, an app specifically designed to help you get your breathing under control. "It teaches deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing exercises," says Ciulla, "and people can learn how to do it just prior to a stressful event or subsequent event. It teaches a better way to manage one's breathing and that's a very effective way to manage stress."

Mental health is a big issue for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and military suicides are an epidemic. Still, a lot of veterans don't receive the treatment they need. Ciulla says, "While leadership has made a very concerted effort to break down the notion of stigmatization of getting mental health care, we still know that a lot of folks are reluctant to get care. They're concerned it will effect their careers. The nice thing is that these apps can be downloaded confidentially, so individuals are able to get initial access to behavioral health resources rather than spend time in a clinic where a note will be written on the basis of that visit."

"On the issue of suicide, we're actually working now on an app called Virtual Hope Box, which is designed to help individuals who are in acute distress to access some pleasant soothing kinds of content they've preloaded to help them get through that distressing or traumatic experience."

Also on today's show, Operation Ghost Click is an FBI operation that has made what is being called one of the biggest busts in cybercrime history. FBI officials made arrests related to a network of four million infected computers.

"What it did was essentially corrupt the ability of host computers to reliably find websites with a web browser," says security expert Brian Krebs. "So for instance, it would block infected computers from being able to visit antivirus and security sites. But more importantly the people behind this malware used it to control which ads, which advertisements, the victims saw when they visited certain websites."

And why would bad guys hijack computers to do that? Krebs says, "You can imagine if you have this kind of network, you might be able to sell it to people who wanted to get traffic to their sites and are willing to pay for that. So you'd go to a site that would normally serve an ad for Netflix or iTunes or something and because the malware would let them change what ads people were seeing, they would swap in ad for adult website or an affiliate program they signed up for."

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.
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