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How real life veterans inspired National Geographic to create a mental health app

Bravo Tango Brain Training is the first voice-powered app built specifically for veterans

When National Geographic started production on The Long Road Home, a series based on real-life service members, their home lives and the effects of deployment, we knew the show and the stories it told would carry great weight within the veteran community. As with any of our projects, we set out to explore stories from an up-close and deeply human perspective and as we recreated these difficult and strenuous moments on The Long Road Home, we gained new insight into the challenges these men and women often face when returning home. We soon realized there was an opportunity to create a tangible solution that would expand the ethos of the series beyond the screen.

Veterans, though perhaps the population that serves to benefit the most from technological advances- especially in the wellness space, are often left behind and underserved. When we started down this road with our agency partner 360i, it became clear that the current wellness options for veterans were lacking. They were either built for the general populous and did not address their very specific needs, or those that were tailored to them were woefully outdated with a user experience that was lacking. Shocking still, was the fact that most veterans do not qualify for VA benefits, and are not getting the simplest help they need. What The Long Road Home made us see was this inherent need for easy access to a first step towards help. And so, we created Bravo Tango Brain Training, the first wellness app of its kind that is free, designed specifically for the veteran community and uses voice technology via Google Assistant to reach veterans wherever they are.

According to numerous studies and our consulting psychologist, former Air Force psychologist Dr. Michael Valdovinos, meditation is one the most effective methods for reducing stress, refining focus and raising optimism among veterans. Despite the societal stigma he says it carries in the veteran community, Dr. Valdovinos has been studying the positive effects of mediation in his practice for years and partnered with us to design the Bravo Tango Brain Training program. The voice-powered program engages directly with the user when prompted and verbally confirms how the user is feeling before pairing them with an appropriate exercise. Bravo Tango can recognize over 40 emotions and offers meditation-based treatments in visualization, breathing techniques, interpersonal connection muscle relaxation, focus, grounding and others.

What’s most profound about this program, other than the fact that nothing like this has existed before, is that it completely democratizes veteran access to mental healthcare; any veteran with a smartphone now has access to professional treatment. The exercises in the app are the very same that Dr. Valdovinos conducts in his private practice, but adapted for the voice interface. More so than other technologies, voice allows for two-way engagement and creates an environment for connection. While Bravo Tango Brain Training is certainly not a cure-all for mental health it represents a first step and a bridge to seeking help. We hope we can do some good for this community that has given us so much, by providing this simple, but powerful technology, that will live on long after The Long Road Home’s final episode.

To start now, download Google Assistant and say, “Ok Google, talk to Bravo Tango.”

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