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The Veterans Healthcare System created a virtual system to treat veterans during the pandemic

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(NOW) - COVID-19 has taken a toll on many things, especially mental health. Iowa being the home to many veterans, the Iowa City Veterans Healthcare System said presented more challenges to the community.

Director of Mental Health, Dr. Mark Zerwic said he has noticed three trends develop within patients, due to the increased isolation.

NOTICEABLE MENTAL HEALTH TRENDS IN VETERANS:

  • Increase in PTSD and depression symptoms
  • Coping strategies decreasing in effectiveness
  • Rise in substance abuse

With in person services reduced, Dr. Zerwic said the department had to get creative to continue treating patients from home.

"The V.A. developed a 100,000 iPad project, so if you didn't have a computer with a camera and microphone, we would send you an iPad with preloaded internet, give you a test call with that so we could provide those sessions with you face to face," Zerwic said.

Increasing their use of technology for treatments, Dr. Zerwic told KWWL they also wanted to enhance social support while social distancing. Therefore, the department started new check ups during virtual therapy sessions.

"Not only providing the therapy for them but also giving them through video chat before and after the sessions kind of time for mutual support, because veterans really benefit off of treatment and from the veteran to veteran support," Zerwic said.

Dr. Zerwic said the response to their new virtual system has been very positive from veterans, and said the department has started to do more in person sessions recently.

The V.A. also encourages veterans to use their app called "COVID Coach" while at home. An app the department designed during the pandemic was created to help increase at-home services.

The app is used to help veterans with mindfulness, relaxation, and coping exercises. Dr. Zerwic also encourages that everyone can use it, not just veterans.

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Alaina Kwan

Morning Reporter

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