On Sunday TODAY, 11/12/2017, in celebration of all our brave military veterans, we watched a new therapy that is helping so many who suffer everyday from the emotional scars of war-known as Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder or PTSD. The frightening thought of swimming with stingrays and (gentle) whale sharks was a little overwhelming, to say the least, for these veterans.
The Georgia Aquarium located in Atlanta, launched its Veterans Immersion Program (VIP) in 2008 with a team of Handicapped Scuba Certified Dive Masters and Instructors that can handle vets of all abilities, including those with quadriplegia and amputations. 600 will be helped this year alone. The testimonies from this experience are moments of peace, and some renewing their will to live. All positive experiences were spoken and escaping from their ever-present fears, doubts, and depression was such a gift.
“Once you hit the water, it’s so relaxing; all anxiety is gone,” said Ric O’Brien, a Wounded Warrior Project leader and Vietnam veteran who’s helped coordinate dives and snorkeling excursions for 150 service members in the 6.3-million-gallon habitat. “You’re away from your PTSD. You’re away from any injuries you have. It’s just you and the aquarium.”
Senior dive master Mike Hilliard, an Army veteran who survived a gunshot to the head in Iraq, said some pupils have credited the programs with giving them a new will to live, and almost all surface with jovial demeanors. “Not only are [veterans] carrying the burden of whatever may have happened overseas, but when they come back, their family’s been in a routine for the year that they’ve been gone, and now they’re trying to fit into that,” said Hilliard. “It’s a lot of things hitting them at once, and it becomes overwhelming. Being able to go into an environment that they’ve never been in, never experienced, with all the animals—there’s nothing in there that’s treated them wrong. It’s a new, fresh start.”
Susan Oglesby, head diver and instructor, said, “When you take them outside their comfort zone, and drop them into the water, they’re not thinking, ‘Is that thing over there an IED?’ You don’t think about that because there’s a whale shark the size of a school bus swimming under you. There’s not room for any of the other stuff you’ve been thinking about before. It’s just bigger than life!”
Personal thought: We are so grateful for all those who paid such a price for our freedoms, and we are so thankful for those who help those suffering from PTSD. May these special moments they see, overshadow the horrors that can never be unseen. As only 1% of Americans are soldiers, may the other 99% make sure we take care of them.
Photo courtesy of Bing.com