American heroes... returning home from long tours of duty. Sometimes adjusting is easy, but for some... the war isn’t over. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder impacting millions of soldiers.
In this Special Report, CBS47's Claudia Rodarte shows how some veterans are learning to cope with the disorder.
Army veteran Gerardo Lozano served in the army for 8 years. While stationed in Iraq, his Humvee ran over a roadside bomb. "Just the whole shock about it kind of rattled my brain. Um, I just have those after effects," said Gerardo.
Army veteran Edgar Duenas-Flores also served in Iraq. His platoon struck multiple IEDs. "When they go off, you just feel it. You just see stars and takes you a while to try, try to come back and figure out where you are," said Edgar.
Edgar has a bullet wound in the knee and scarring from a roadside bomb on his arm and back. But most have wounds you will never see... wounds that impact their lives and those of their families when they return home. "I'm full of scars physically, but the mental ones are the toughest ones," said Edgar.
Thousands of returning vets suffer from brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
We talked to Remy Sanchez, a speech language pathologist for the Fresno Veterans Hospital. "They look just like you and me... but it's what's going on in the inside. There's like the war is still going on in the inside and it's very real," said Sanchez.
Sanchez works with veterans to overcome the impact of their injuries, in a non-traditional setting. "A part of it is removing them from all their triggers, all the anxiety...bringing them out to a place where they can kind of relax," said Sanchez.
The Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch in Clovis helps veterans with therapeutic healing, not just physically, but mentally as well. Sanchez says it taps into areas of the brain used for language, sequencing and problem solving. "We put them on the horses, they're trained, they're taught new skills. They have to incorporate that into kind of a functional setting," said Sanchez.
The horses weigh 900 to 1,200 pounds, so veterans need to learn to be able to relax and collect their emotions in order to control the horse. The hope is that the coping mechanisms they learn with the horses can be brought into the home.
Guy Adams, director of Heart of the Horse has been helping veterans take control of their lives for several years. "A soldier learns how to control his emotions so he can keep his wife, keep his kids safe... not scared of him and hold their jobs," said Adams.
The horse is sensitive, so if you're angry, tense or frightened, the horse will react. "Part of the therapy is relying on other people, you know, putting trust in them just like I put trust in the horse today," said Edgar.
One of the goals of the therapy is to expose veterans to new experiences of all types. "You just live in the moment here," said Gerardo.
Fly fishing with Project Healing Waters is another form of therapy for disabled veterans. They recently made a trip to Hume Lake. Army veteran Miguel Luna served in Northern Iraq. He used to fly fish before joining the Army, but had to re-learn because of memory loss. "Having all these professionals here to teach us how to re-adapt so to speak has made it real easy for me to get out there and be you know a little bit of who I was at least for a day," said Miguel.
Casting the line takes a lot of muscle memory skills, so veterans have to remember when to start and when to stop. " So that repetition, the more we do it with these guys, it kind of triggers their brain, oh yeah I remember how I did this," said Fred Ramirez. He is the Central Valley Coordinator for Project Healing Waters. He recently took a large group of veterans to Hume Lake to go fly fishing. He says the tranquility of the wind in the trees and the water slapping the bottom of the boat provides a sense of peace.
Veteran Angie Cabrera comes out to relax, but is also challenging her mind.
Fred Ramirez said, "That's where the tying comes in... is that re-teaching them to stop and think about what we did today or what we did last week."
Another therapeutic water activity drawing veterans is scuba diving through aqua sports in Fresno. They believe it helps boost veterans' self-confidence and improve life skills. A group recently took a recent trip to Catalina. "I always tell them, you go out to do these things to remind you how to live again," said Sanchez.
Sanchez says these therapeutic events teaches these veterans to interact in the world we live in today.
Edgar suffers from flashbacks and nightmares and says it's interfered with getting a job. He's been unemployed for more than a year. It's been rough, but he says he’s hanging in there just as he hung on to the horse. "I'm trying to keep this flickering flame on which is my future you know, the sky is full of dreams and I'm just learning how to fly now," said Edgar.
The veterans feel like they're on the right path to living a normal life or at least learning to cope with their battle scars. Like his brother in arms, Gerardo is at Fresno State and has hopes of becoming a dietitian. "Help out some lives... hopefully veterans in a VA hospital," said Gerardo with a smile.
All of the therapeutic activities shown in this special report do not charge disabled veterans. If you would like to learn more or would like to help financially, click the related links.
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