A local nonprofit has been healing disabled veterans through free scuba diving lessons at the McMurtrey Aquatic Center.
Each year, Aqua-Nut certifies up to six veterans with conditions from PTSD to traumatic brain injury and physical disabilities.
“I have PTSD so there’s a lot of stuff that goes on above the water that you kind of just want to get in the water, and it seems like everything goes away. You’re concentrating on your air and your swimming and where you’re at,” said Army veteran Josh Conner.
In the water, it’s a serene, stark contrast to their memories as a soldier.
According to a 2011 Johns Hopkins study, PTSD symptoms decreased by 80 percent in veterans who went diving.
“When I got out of the military, I had a hard time getting back into civilian life,” said Army veteran Jorge Partida. “Now, instead of thinking of the bad, I think of scuba. I think of what I can do to have fun. I think of the next gear or the next trip, or planning to go to warm waters.”
At Aqua-Nut, the instructors are all volunteers. The equipment, training, and costs–which amounts to $10,000 a year–are completely funded by community donations.
“It makes me feel really good, almost crying good, to help these people,” said Dave Ross, an Aqua-Nut instructor and Marine veteran himself.
This effort is part of Aqua-Nut’s charity project, Veterans Empowered through Scuba–or V.E.T.S.
At the end of training, the group will travel to Catalina Island to scuba in the big sea. After graduating, there’s the opportunity to return for a second year for an advanced class.
Most importantly, the classes give the veterans a sense of camaraderie.
“These guys get to be brought back into a team environment, and they like that. That’s how they thrive. and then they meet a big group of people, and it just helps them socially.”
It’s the bond of fellow veterans who have sacrificed and triumphed alike.
To get involved or to donate, head to aqua-nut.com/vets.