United States Army veteran and Lift and Shift CEO Tom Smoot Jr. appears to be a natural problem solver, engineering his way through life’s tough situations. As a child with dreams of becoming an astronaut, Smoot identified scouting, STEM and the military as possible means to break away from a difficult family life. As a young adult engaged in a tour of beach bartending, he realized that he needed a greater purpose to his life and entered the United States Army Reserves.
Smoot served as member of a Special Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment, who search out and decontaminate weapons of mass destruction. His detachment was disbanded in 2000 and Smoot was reassigned to Civil Affairs, but Sept. 11, 2001 changed his life swiftly. On Day Three, he got married. On Day Four, he was put back on active duty. Smoot served in the military 12 years in Iraq, who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PTSD is a mental health disorder, which can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It affects how the memories of that event are stored and the effect of these memories on subsequent behavior. The Veteran’s Affairs National Center for PTSD estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan show symptoms. Treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing and antidepressant drug therapy.
Smoot describes his PTSD as feeling as if his memory system is off or not recalling correctly, jumpiness, being overly cautious, fear of the unexpected and noise aversion. Several attempts at treatment and therapy have not cured him, but he feels that he has “adapted” to the condition with constant access to headphones and the use of problem-solving skills in his profession and studies.
Smoot is a research assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering, which studies engineering at Penn State. One of his current goals is to receive a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Because of Smoot’s PTSD, he learns in an unconventional fashion. He must retrace back multiple steps while writing out each step to ultimately push forward and solve the STEM-related problems. This process has improved his ability to adapt to PTSD, according to researchers. This revelation has given Smoot yet another ambitious goal: to bring this alternative therapy based in technology and problem solving to Veterans Affairs hospitals and military medical centers nationwide.