SAN DIEGO (CBSLA.com) — A mixed martial arts program in San Diego helps war veterans battle post-traumatic stress disorder.
Todd Vance, a Gulf War vet, told KCAL9's Jeff Nguyen that he started training with the Navy SEALs to prepare for professional MMA fights.
After realizing the tough workouts also helped other vets adjust to civilian life and combat PTSD, he created P.O.W.—or Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics—in 2010.
"On deployment, we lost three guys. The sad thing is ... I've lost over three times as many friends to suicide from returning from Iraq since 2006. A year ago, I stopped going to funerals because it was taking too much out of me," Vance said.
Student Jason Kang said he was on a path of hopelessness and contemplated taking his own life before he joined the P.O.W. program.
"I had a problem with alcohol use and substance abuse," he said.
Kang, who has entered three rehab programs since leaving the service nine years ago, said the program has given him the greatest chance to stay clean.
"My darkest moments were spent in solitude," he said.
Asked how getting knocked down makes him get up every day, Kang said, "We're actually learning to adapt, how to get out of different bad situations that we're in, and that plays a big part in just real life."
In 2009, Derrick Ford, who grew up in Chino Hills, got married and was deployed to Afghanistan.
While he was overseas, an IED attack caused him to lose his left leg below the knee.
The next month, his wife gave birth to twins.
"All of that piled on top was such an immense pressure on my life, on my marriage, on my wife, on my kids," Ford said.
Ford said the pressure led to a drinking problem. He eventually realized he needed a better and safer outlet to deal with his pain.
The vets use safety equipment during their workouts, which are scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, along with early Saturday mornings.
"The idea is that it's 11 a.m.," Vance said. "So it's early enough to make sure that the guys are held accountable for Friday night."
Asked if anyone has required stitches, Vance said, "I would say bruises. And cuts here and there. Maybe a sprained finger, something like that, but no major injuries. Not one major injury."
Vance is hoping to expand the P.O.W. program, which is free to veterans, to Los Angeles and Orange counties and then east toward Texas.
"The big plan is to be within a 30-mile proximity to every VA hospital in the country. That's the main objective," he said.
Until then, Jason Kang hopes to spread the word about the program that helped change his life.
"I've just seen the other veterans who are in the cage with me in the program and how it's turned their lives around, so I'm going to start working on that … on helping other people receive the gospel of the P.O.W. program," Kang said.
That gospel may already have a new believer in first-timer Paul Neely.
He hopes MMA will help stop his nightmares and emotional swings.
"When I start crying, I can't stop. It's kind of embarrassing to be in public at that point," Neely said. "It's a lot safer to get anger out this way than be angry and still keep it inside and not let it show. Seven years is a long time to let things eat away at you."
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