Army veteran Brian Sullivan recently enjoyed a meal many of his peers only dream about – pizza with the president. The former explosive ordnance disposal specialist was one of four veterans invited to join President Barack Obama and the first lady for pizza at a Hampton, Va., Italian restaurant last week.
The presidential couple, who were in town to talk about a jobs bill for military veterans, and their guests talked informally about a variety of topics. Discussed during the lunch were the military transition program, jobs for veterans and the state of veteran health care. When the president asked Sullivan how he got his current job, Sullivan told his story, including what life is like for him as a veteran coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sullivan, a hands-on kind of guy, pulled out his smartphone and showed the president a tool he likes to use – the T2 MoodTracker mobile app. Sullivan uses the technology to keep track of PTSD-related symptoms.
“He took my phone and played with the app – moving the sliders around, checking it out,” he said. “And then he saw my most recent graph and stopped. I had charted some bad days previously, and I think it got his attention.”
Empowered by TechnologyThe application, developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), allows Sullivan to use his phone to self-monitor, track and reference his emotional experience during a period of time using a visual rating scale. For example, when he feels stressed or anxious he can open the app and rate his feelings, add notes and then see a graph to compare past entries.
“What’s most helpful about this app is the graphing,” he said. “I can keep track of what’s going on with me and even get an idea of what may trigger certain feelings – it helps me help myself.”
Empowered by the technology he learned about from an online military organization, Sullivan shared his graphs with a health care provider during a recent re-evaluation.
“My doc said it was great and I should use it more often because the graph and notes really help providers understand the feelings and reactions I’ve had since my last visit,” he said.
Leaders and developers at the organization that created the mobile tool were thankful for Sullivan’s feedback.
"We are excited and grateful to learn that Mr. Sullivan downloaded the T2 MoodTracker and was able to share his enthusiasm with this mobile application with President Obama,” said Dr. Gregory Gahm, T2 director.
According to Gahm, mobile apps have become very popular with service members and veterans and are an effective delivery platform for behavioral health services and products.
“The T2 MoodTracker app is one in a suite of mobile tools that we are building to support the military community," Gahm said. “T2 is engaged in multiple projects to help service members, veterans and their families get access to information and care.”
Hardly HappenstanceSullivan, a member of the veteran organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was at the pizzeria because of an invitation he accepted from IAVA to represent the organization and its more than 100,000 members at a “roundtable discussion” with “senior White House staffers”.
Sullivan later discovered that the event he mentally prepped for wasn’t what he expected -- the table he sat at wasn’t round and he hardly thought of the president and first lady as White House staffers. An adept soldier, the Operation Enduring Freedom veteran saw his chance to bend the ear of the country’s leader and took it.
“Meeting the president was only a start. Things happen for a reason, and I want to use this experience to help other veterans,” he said. “We know there are things broken with the veteran health care system, maybe I can use chances like this to help fix a few of them.”
Sullivan, a family man and father of five, found himself reflecting on memories of his own father who passed away last year. He was a post commander at their local American Legion.
“My dad took his job seriously and did whatever he could to help veterans,” he said. “Now, I can’t help but think I have the chance to pick up where he left off.”
For more information about T2 and the full suite of technology and products they produce, visit T2health.org.