Stack Up and VR players support the emotional well-being of veterans and deployed military personnel

Isolation, job loss and illness have affected almost everyone over the past 18 months, but the effects of Covid-19 on the general population continue to underscore the need for concentrated support among groups that were already at increased risk for suicide and other mental disorders. health problems. Veterans and military personnel fall into this category, and VR gamers do their best to help improve the emotional well-being of these individuals through hands-on support and encouragement.

The non-profit organization Stack Up brings together veterans, serving military and civilian supporters through a shared love of the game and events such as the Forward Stack Up Tournament helps fund beneficial programs, but before we dive into Stack Up and the VR charity event, let’s take a look at the challenges.

The suicide rate among veterans is 1.5 times higher than among Americans who have never served in the military and according to a report by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there have been more than 6,000 veteran suicides every year from 2008 to 2017.

In October 2020, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs released a surveillance report covering the first months of the pandemic. The onset of a global tragedy resulted in increased isolation, fear, anxiety, financial stress and depression. There has been a slight increase in the crisis line for veterans, and although demand has slowed to pre-pandemic levels in May, the need for continued support remains stable.

Suicide rates have increased over the past 20 years among people in the United States and before the pandemic, just over one in ten adults (11%) reported symptoms in the first half of 2019 that corresponded to a diagnosable anxiety or depressive disorder. . This number had risen to 41% by January 2021.

Traffic signs

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, many veterans at imminent risk of suicide may not show signs of harming themselves. Considering the fact that almost half of all veterans own at least one firearm, and 68% of veterans who commit suicide die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds (compared to 48% of non-self-inflicted suicides). – veterans), it is important to recognize and treat the signs of depression. or increased psychiatric illness such as:

  • Discouraged, anxious, irritated most of the time
  • Poor sleeping habits, sleeping most of the time or not at all
  • Decreased grooming and personal hygiene
  • Increased isolation from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in things they care about, including hobbies, work, social activities
  • Expressing a lack of purpose in life, feelings of guilt or shame, relationships or unresolved issues
  • Increased risk behavior

Unfortunately, due to the isolation caused by the pandemic, we are not always aware of the warning signs and this is where a community of support can have a huge impact. Even though people don’t see their friends or family in physical reality, they can communicate in games or through online forums such as Discord.

VR players use the available tools and interact in immersive environments, which builds friendship and trust between players. They can then encourage and support each other while providing a safe space where people feel more comfortable asking for help.

Image credit: Stack Up


Founded in 2015, Stack Up helps U.S. and allied military personnel deploy to combat zones and recover from traumatic physical and emotional injuries through the power of video games.

“People who were already isolated were even more isolated during quarantine,” says Sean Kelly, influencer relations manager at Stack Up.

Kelly, aka “Diety” for her gamer friends, explains that Stack Up is geared towards gaming or geek culture and that these common interests bind community members together.

“The elements of geek culture and video games specifically bring some relief, something else they can focus on,” says Kelly, who volunteered with Stack Up for almost three years before joining in. as influencer relations coordinator in 2019.

Kelly had joined the US Army in 1995 as a Canon crew member, then worked in military intelligence and counterterrorism. Deployed to Kuwait and Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan in 2006, he understands the issues facing veterans and serving members.

“Play is a way to spend less time thinking about bad experiences,” says Kelly, adding that games are also a way to bond with their military family, which is important because these people understand the challenges. unique for active and veterans. military personnel.

Captain Stephen Machuga, Founder and CEO of Stack Up, shares how video games saved his life after returning from Iraq. For him, the particular stressor was leaving his home and seeing trash piling up for collection, which sparked memories of Iraq where insurgents hid explosives in trash piles, so that there was always a risk of explosion while driving.

A few weeks after Machuga returned home, he started playing the new World of warcraft and he was able to focus on driving through town to embark on his next mission in the game rather than being stressed out by the garbage piles. In 2010, when a friend re-enlisted and was immediately sent to Afghanistan, Machuga began sending thousands of dollars worth of games and equipment to units overseas.

Image credit: Stack Up

To be clear, it’s not as if others haven’t supported active military personnel, but sometimes those efforts can be a little misguided.

“When I was in Iraq, our infantry company received a crate full of third-hand romance novels from a library,” Machuga says. “We used them to practice shooting at the confiscated gun range, but that’s when I realized: people wanted to help the veterans, but they just didn’t know what we wanted. “

Monitoring program

There are several great programs at Stack Up that help Veterans deal with the stress of deployment as well as recovery and transition once they get home. A vital support service is the Stack Up Overwatch (StOP) program, designed to monitor the community and provide critical non-clinical peer-to-peer support via Discord, phone, or the app.

StOP Squads are trained and certified to assist in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Squad team members are HIPAA certified and conversations are strictly confidential. Available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, the StOP Squad can provide resources, support services or just a safe space to talk about the issues veterans are grappling with. The services are accessible to anyone over 18 years old.

Supply crates and air assault

In addition to the Overwatch program, Stack Up continues to follow the lead of Machuga’s initial efforts with hands-on support by sending care packages filled with video games and nerd goodies to deployed members of the U.S. and Allied armed forces.

Supply crates provide a healthy outlet to decompress and help prevent the onset of operational stress. Rather than focusing on the tragedies around them or how many days they have left in the theater, they can focus on something more positive with their fellow fighters.

Image credit: Stack Up

Air Assaults are all-expense paid trips to video game and geek culture events that allow veterans to connect with others who share their interests and support them. The goal is to provide an experience that veterans can positively view and feel encouraged for the future.

This is actually how I heard about Stack Up when I met several Oculus Connect 5 veterans in 2018. The event had a positive impact on them as well as others and it was obvious that there was mutual respect between developers, esports competitors, and veterans. People came from different backgrounds and had different roles, but we came together as a community of VR gamers.

Charity tournament

One group that has particularly supported Stack Up is the VR gaming community of Forward, a mil-sim tactical first-person shooter from Downpour Interactive. A lot Forward players actively supported military veterans and, in fact, the veterans I met at Oculus Connect were there to watch an esports event featuring Forward.

“We love and support all of our veterans and serving members. But the harsh reality is that they suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD and more every day, ”explains F. Lapinski, Forward Organizer of Stack Up tournaments.

“Those who sacrificed themselves for us are paying the price,” he adds.

The first one Forward The Stack Up tournament will be held September 4-5 and all donations and registration fees will go to Stack Up. Currently there is a $ 2,000 prize pool with items from other supporting VR communities such as ProTube VR, VR Master League, VR Wear, Sanlaki, and The Hive / VRespawn.

There are two supports for the event: T-Rex for the highest qualified teams and Spinosaurus for the lower ranked teams. Additional details and rules can be found on the Forward Charity Tournament Discord Server.

  • Date: September 4-5
  • Time: Starts 2:00 p.m. EDT
  • Registration Fee: T-Rex Bracket $ 20 / player | Spinosaurus support $ 10 / player
  • Prizes: T-Rex winners will receive a fully personalized ProTube VR MagTube stick for each player, a VR Wear t-shirt, Sanlaki table tennis controllers, and a personalized event team jersey. | Spinosaurus winners will receive a Sanlaki gun stock and a Sanlaki table tennis controller, as well as a VR Wear t-shirt.
  • Watch Live: The event will be broadcast and broadcast on VRML Twitch channels.

You can donate directly to the Stack Up charity here.

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