OKLAHOMA CITY — As we honor those who have served our country this Veteran’s Day, there is growing awareness of an increasing problem with our vets.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is on the rise in veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But a local non-profit hopes to change all that.
Operation Green Hope is striving to relieve veterans’ PTSD symptoms with a game.
Drew Wilson, 26, says it’s worked for him.
Wilson grew up in a military family and enlisted in the marines right out of high school.
He volunteered to go to Iraq with the Fourth Combat Engineer Battalion out of Virginia.
As a combat engineer, one of his main jobs was to find weapon caches and blow them up.
Dead bodies were common.
“We had to sit there and wait for EOD to come blow them up because you know they had suicide vests on,” said Wilson
The sights and sounds of Iraq have been hard to shake.
“And just like the hot air, just the uh, the stench. Like the smell was just unbearable,” said Wilson.
Adding to the stress, Wilson lost a comrade over there, someone he considered a friend.
After returning to the states, Wilson was diagnosed with PTSD, but struggled with conventional treatments.
“I was a little suicidal when I came home. I was like, I just can’t bear this. I just don’t want this weight on my shoulders any more,” said Wilson.
Wilson finally found relief from his symptoms by throwing himself right back into the situation that caused the stress in the first place.
“My training would just click in,” said Wilson.
He’s not in Iraq, but at the old ACH building behind the Oklahoma City stockyards.
His gun won’t kill anyone, maybe just deliver a powerful sting.
He’s not out for blood though.
He’s just playing a game.
“These veterans don’t want medication. They don’t want to sit in group therapy. But they do understand combat,” said Kandy Human RN, CNO, President and CEO of Operation Green Hope.
The game is airsoft, a wildly popular game similar to paintball, but using tiny plastic pellets.
The goal is exposure therapy.
There are already military simulation airsoft games.
Human says this game can help veterans conquer their PTSD.
“The more that we can expose in safe environments, you know, the more that we’re hoping to desensitize and lessen those threats of that these veterans are experiencing,” said Human.
Realistic gear and scenarios, minus the realistic danger, helps vets work through the trauma.
“They’ve found that air soft helps them cope with nightmares, hyper vigilance, things like that,” said William Baumann with Operation Green Hope.
“No one dies and you feel good that you made the right decision,” said Wilson.
Wilson says he’s living proof that it works.
“I haven’t called the hotline in a long time,” he said.
And he feels this unconventional method can help other veterans who have given so much in defense of our country.
Operation Green Hope is still in its infancy.
They’re currently looking for business sponsors and qualified veterans for the program.