How Veterans are using AI to practice critical conversations

A team of Fellows supported ReflexAI to build HomeTeam – a tool to help Veterans train for conversations about mental health and suicide.

Nov 08, 2023 3 min read

Chris Keller, Software Engineer, Google
Former Specialist E4, US Army Reserve

I joined the Army Reserves in 2005 as a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist while working towards my college degree in Computer Science. In 2009, I was deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq. While I didn’t experience combat firsthand, I was able to put my childhood passion for computers to use in the field, managing communications infrastructure to support my fellow Soldiers. This experience in the military prepared me for the work I currently do at Google, where I build and manage the technical infrastructure it takes to drive our products.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to leverage my experience as both a Veteran and an engineer to help in an even deeper way – through the Fellowship.

Alongside 8 other full-time Fellows & 8 technical volunteers, I was able to work pro bono with a social enterprise called ReflexAI. Their mission is to use artificial intelligence-powered tools to help emergency response, public safety, and healthcare organizations train counselors to better serve people in crisis. Our Google team – made up of Veterans, Veteran family members, and technologists – supported ReflexAI to build HomeTeam: an interactive, online platform that harnesses the power of AI to help address mental health challenges in Veteran communities.

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A team of nine Fellows worked with ReflexAI for 6 months to develop and launch HomeTeam.

The tool is not designed to help Veterans already in crisis; the VA and other groups already do that heroic work. Instead, HomeTeam is designed to train fellow Veterans to spot warning signs and connect to resources before a crisis strikes.

There are four educational modules that cover high-priority mental health support topics. After completing the training, veterans can then practice these skills through realistic conversations with an AI-powered simulation named “Blake.” Using the skills learned in the training, they can then practice responding to Blake in this simulated, confidential, low-risk setting.

A moving gif depicts a screen with a conversation between a veteran, and the responses of Blake, an AI simulation that helps veterans practice conversations about suicide and mental health

In service, we know the power of training before doing. During our user experience research, one Veteran shared that “in the military, you don’t just put people into a dangerous situation right off the bat and expect them to know what to do.” In this sense, HomeTeam is like a “flight simulator” that helps you prepare for the scenarios — in this case, challenging mental health conversations – that you will experience in the field.

Responsible deployment of AI was critical for this project. While our team had our own lived experience as a critical reference, we also leaned on the greater Veteran community to gather feedback. We incorporated insights from more than 500 Veterans and solicited feedback in real time as we iterated on the product. Our approach of designing with responsibility, safety, and empathy as our guiding principles gave me the confidence that to the best of our ability, the health and well-being of our community was always our priority.

A man’s image is reflected in the glossy black marble of the Vietnam war memorial, with his hand touching the wall.

I’m intimately familiar with the mental health toll that service can take. My grandfather completed several tours in Vietnam, and my family says he was never the same once he returned home. I also deeply understand the emotional burden of survivor’s guilt and stigma around topics like mental health and suicide that permeates the military community.

Today, I am relieved and hopeful knowing that HomeTeam is out in the world. The average combat Veteran keeps in touch with 8 people they served with; and often, these brothers and sisters in arms are the first people Veterans turn to when struggling with mental health crises. The ReflexAI team encourages Veterans to use HomeTeam so that more community members can be equipped to support each other through tough times.

Get started with HomeTeam at and learn more about resources available to veterans as well as Google Veterans Network’s work to support the veteran community.