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AI training simulates real conversations to help prevent veteran suicide

Artificial intelligence is working to save the lives of America’s heroes.

A new product by ReflexAI called HomeTeam was just released this week, with the goal of preventing veteran suicide.

San Diego-based Callery described HomeTeam as a digital training tool that equips veterans with the skills and confidence to support their fellow vets through mental health challenges.

HomeTeam consists of four training modules: communicating support, talking about suicide, establishing safety, and connecting to resources.

“People know the VA has mental health services,” New York-based Dorison said. “What they don’t know is, ‘How can I be part of the solution for my friend that I care about in a unique peer-support context?’”

HomeTeam’s mental health training program uses AI simulation, Callery pointed out. 

After completing a module, trainees are prompted to test their skills by answering quizzes and interacting with an AI-powered chatbot named Blake.

Blake has been programmed by ReflexAI to converse like a real American military veteran.

The bot’s persona is a 35-year-old Marine veteran from Colorado Springs who is facing several challenges that have affected his mental health.

A group of veterans talking during a PTSD support group.
Getty Images

“Blake is engineered to sound authentic,” Callery said. “Blake sounds like a friend. Blake also swears like a friend. And this was based on a lot of feedback that we received from vets early on.”

HomeTeam users are encouraged to check in with Blake, using open-ended questions to get the bot to “come out of his shell” until he confides in the trainee about what’s on his mind.

“Building trust and getting someone to open up is not just about having a conversation with a friend, but it’s actually taking action and building a bridge,” Dorison said.

“And it’s meant to be hard … It’s going to take a few tries in real life, too. That’s part of the practice.”

Users can have multiple conversations with Blake in each module to explore different approaches.

John Callery, ReflexAI co-founder and chief product and technology officer.
John Callery-Coyne / Linkedin

HomeTeam’s generative AI is designed to be “very responsive and agile” while keeping the conversation on track, Callery said.

“It is generative AI, intended to foster human connection,” Dorison said. 

“In every other part of your life in the military, you practice,” he went on. “Why would the one area that’s so important to you, the mental health of your former bunkmates and battalion mates, not be a place where you have that same opportunity to practice?”

“We see this AI as critical to reinforcing the skills that help you actually build closer connections and make an impact on your friends’ lives.”

Veterans were involved throughout the creation of HomeTeam, Callery added.

This allowed the creators to finetune the content to match the users’ expectations and experiences.

Sam Dorison, ReflexAI co-founder and CEO, told Fox News Digital that the team feels a “particular commitment” to the veteran community.

“We feel a particular commitment to the veteran community, based on shared family history with members of the military,” Dorison said.

“It’s a community that we feel an obligation to serve.”

The idea for HomeTeam was sparked after ReflexAI was asked to pitch the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on ways to improve veteran crisis training.

The team conducted research with veterans. It did national polling, held focus groups and took part in one-on-one interviews to develop the product.

Dorison said that veterans in crisis traditionally turn to three groups — the VA, their families and fellow veterans — which prompted ReflexAI to turn its attention to peer support.

“We found that 92% of veterans are open to supporting or being supported by another veteran when they’re in crisis, but only 25% are prepared to do so,” he said.

“We saw an enormous opportunity to help close that gap. Veterans want to help, they want to take action, but they don’t feel like they can.”

HomeTeam’s Dashboard shows the training modules, which are broken up into sub-units for veterans who may have difficulty focusing.

Following this breakthrough in veteran crisis support, Dorison and Callery founded ReflexAI in 2022 after working at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit group, as volunteer crisis counselors and executives.

HomeTeam has received positive feedback from such organizations as Irreverent Warriors, Stack Up and the Purple Heart Foundation, all of which have put the training into practice.

HomeTeam was launched publicly on Veterans Day for any organization or individual to access it for free.

“Anybody is welcome to sign up for it,” Callery said. “The content is centered around the veteran’s experience, but these are practical skills that everybody can learn to support fellow veterans in their lives.”

The hope is that one million veterans will experience HomeTeam within its first year, Dorison said.

“I don’t see why we can’t change the lives of 10 million veterans,” he also said. 

HomeTeam’s chat simulation prompts users to help the chatbot, Blake, work through his own mental health struggles.

“Our hope is that it truly becomes a go-to for veteran mental health peer support.”

Dr. Harvey Castro, a Dallas, Texas-based board-certified emergency medicine physician and national speaker on AI in health care, was not involved in HomeTeam’s development but weighed in on its potential benefits and risks.

“As an ER physician, I see the urgency of early intervention in mental health crises,” he told Fox News Digital. “HomeTeam’s focus on mental health and suicide prevention among veterans is a crucial step in providing timely support.”

Castro said he believes the app has the power to educate people about effective communication strategies and recognition of warning signs, which is essential for early intervention.

Yet the AI model could pose some limitations, Castro noted.

“AI might not fully capture the complexities of mental health issues, risking oversimplified approaches,” he warned.

“While AI offers scalability, it may lack the personalized touch of traditional therapy.”

There could also be concerns pertaining to data privacy and the “digital literacy” of users, Castro added.

“Reflex AI’s HomeTeam app represents a significant advancement in using AI for veteran mental health support,” he said. 

“Its innovative approach, combining AI with educational content and community building, shows great promise,” he went on.

“Addressing potential drawbacks and evolving based on clinical research and health care integration will be crucial for its success in effectively serving the veteran community.”

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