Sheridan VA Medical Center
Answer Ring Helping Vets Get Help
By JEREMY PELZER Star-Tribune capital bureau
When America’s military service members return home from war, they often face another dangerous, if more subtle, battle within themselves.
Veterans often experience post-traumatic stress, suffering panic attacks and dwelling on what they saw overseas, feeling isolated from family and finding themselves unable to adjust to life at home.
The results can be horrific. A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates, and tens of thousands of others have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
The real danger, experts say, is that it can be extremely difficult to diagnose post-traumatic stress victims. They often don’t realize what’s wrong with themselves, or they avoid seeking help for fear they’ll be labeled “crazy,” hurting their reputation and their career.
But now, Sheridan architect Timothy Belton has designed a deceptively simple tool he hopes will help veterans take initial steps toward breaking through that wall: a Frisbee-sized cardboard wheel called the AnswerRing.
With four moveable tabs circling a draped American flag graphic, the ring is designed to be played with. It conspicuously stands out lying on a coffee table or on a kitchen counter.
“It’s, if you will, a guy thing,” Belton said. “The curiosity of simply seeing it and saying, ‘I wonder what this is’ is enough to hook them.”
Once the ring is picked up, the veteran can move around the tabs to choose from different scenarios that may apply to him or her: from war memories that can’t be shaken to marital problems to thoughts of suicide.
After his or her selections are made, the vet can flip the wheel over to read explanations for such behavior — “recurring memories of the war is the most common problem” — along with suggestions on how to deal with it, from simple advice to counseling or suicide hotline contact information.
The goal of the AnswerRing, Belton said, isn’t to solve vets’ problems, but to identify them — both for them and their loved ones, who may later see the choices their veteran has selected on the ring.