Prevail Health Solutions provides support for veterans

By Katherine Klingseis,

Thousands of American soldiers are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day, these soldiers have to deal with traumatic events. For many, this horror does not end when they return home.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to a traumatic or terrifying event. Soldiers often witness these types of events, and 37 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD and/or depression.

However, only 47 percent of those suffering from mental health problems will seek treatment, and, of those seeking treatment, 45 percent will not receive adequate care.

“There’s a stigma, and troops just don’t want to have to go into a hospital and see a psychiatrist,” said Matthew McSweeney, employee at Prevail Health Solutions.

Prevail Health Solutions offers web-based behavior and wellness programs for veterans and service members. Richard Gengler and Roger Sweis were MBA students at the University of Chicago when they founded the company in January 2008.

Before Prevail, Gengler served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot for nine years, and Sweis worked as the CEO of Oak Forest Psychological Services. Gengler and Sweis combined their expertise to create a program best suited to help veterans.

The National Science Foundation recognized Prevail with the Phase I Small Business Innovation Grant in January 2009. The grant enabled the company to allow 500 veterans to go through the program. The company received a grant from the McCormick Foundation in May that enabled another 500 veterans to go through the program.

“When we launched the site in November, we thought that it would take three months to get 500 veterans to go through, and, it turned out, we were completely full after three weeks,” McSweeney said.

The program is based around three types of care: cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and peer support.

Cognitive behavioral therapy uses a variety of approaches to help change dysfunctional behavioral and cognitive responses through goal-oriented activities. The program offers veterans several e-learning lessons, which include videos and interactive content.

“[The activities] are anything from going to a movie to taking the garbage out; just simple activities like that to offer them a sense of accomplishment,” McSweeney said.

Trained peer veterans are available 24/7 to chat with participants, an activity used to increase their motivation. The peer veterans talk to the participants, and share their own stories about war experiences.

“Sometimes people just want to talk to somebody who has been through what they’ve been through, and talk about daily life and how they get through things,” McSweeney said.

The final part of the program has to do with the social networking aspect of the website. Participants can post to forums or write in their own blogs. The point of this part of the program is to connect veterans to other veterans.

The programs run for six weeks. Participants earn points after doing activities, and, at the end of the program, they can receive gifts given to Prevail by different businesses.

“We have different rewards for the veterans, so it kind of helps them keep going,” McSweeney said. “It’s just a small incentive that says, ‘Hey, good job! Keep going!'”

In a fast-paced, technology-driven world, veterans desire a readily accessible therapy program. Prevail Health Solutions caters to their needs.

“The big thing that our product offers to veterans who are coming back is availability; it’s all online, so they can do it wherever they are, whenever they want,” McSweeney said. “It’s down-to-earth and very relatable for the troops coming back.”

A doctor from the University of Chicago has run a clinical trial to establish the effects of the program. The results indicated it decreases symptoms of depression and PTSD and improves attitudes toward seeking mental health care. Based on these promising results, Prevail is planning larger-scale trials in the second half of the year.

“It is proving itself successful,” McSweeney said. “It’s a great tool for the veterans to come back to.”

(Originally posted on on July 2, 2010)

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