Wounded veterans get back in the game with adaptive gaming controllers

Wounded veterans are getting help from a new type of therapy, courtesy of the Veterans Administration and Microsoft’s video game console Xbox.

As part of a new pilot program, more than two dozen veterans hospitals around the country, including Tampa’s Haley VA Hospital, received adaptive Xbox controllers, designed for players with limited mobility, using pads instead of buttons and joysticks.

Retired Staff Sergeant Shawn Thomas has been using the controller for a few weeks.

Thomas used to be a bomb detection dog handler in the Army but a motorcycle crash in Italy left him a quadriplegic, unable to use his hands like he used to and unable to play video games with his sons.

“I’ve already tried playing with the normal controller and I can do it—somewhat,” said Thomas. “But it’s not to the capability of my kids. My kids are 8 and 10.”

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“We want them to be as functionally independent as possible,” said Haley recreational therapist Jamie Kaplan. “The VA has recognized that gaming is something that’s a lifelong interest. So we want to encourage that.”

Thomas now has an adaptive controller of his own at home and a different way to respond when his boys ask him to play.

“They were like, ‘So Daddy, can you play with us?’ I’m like, ‘I really can’t, Son.’ Now they’re like, ‘Dad, you wanna play?’… ‘Yeah, let’s play,’" he said.

The VA wants to include adaptive e-sports as an exhibition event in next year’s Wheelchair Games. Haley VA Hospital is working to create its own gaming community in the Tampa Bay area.