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Combat Veterans Use Photography To Cope With PTSD

MENLO PARK (CBS SF) -- Half a million veterans were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2012. Many are still fighting their own silent war, whether they've recently returned from the Middle East or served in the military decades ago.

The Veterans Health Administration in Palo Alto is using a creative new therapy to help heal these war-traumatized veterans.

Veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental challenges are processing their emotions in a photography class at the VA's Menlo Park campus.

Vietnam veteran Ramon Ontiveros was still coping with horrific images from the war which pushed him to consider killing himself. Now, he's learning to gain new perspective through a camera lens.

"Taking pictures is shouting out what I've dealt with," Ontriveros said.

At the end of six week workshop, veterans like Ontriveros can explain their painful journey in poignant photos they take themselves.

VA nurse Susan Quaglietti, who co-founded this program says, "Photography gives them a new focus in their recovery. [It's] the idea [that] sometimes it's easier to communicate with a camera than speak face to face with a therapist."

She also says that some of the emotions can be so traumatic that everyday language doesn't get at the heart of what they're feeling because it's so deep and abstract.

Vietnam veteran Richard Hobbs recently finished the class. Now he shares his haunting Vietnam War memories that led to years of anger and alcohol abuse.

One memory that stood out for Hobbs is of a woman holding a grenade which he says left him with no choice but to kill her and her baby.

After coming home, Hobbs says he was told by his professor that he might as well leave the class because anybody who was stupid enough to go to Vietnam and kill women and children doesn't deserve to pass his class.

Now Hobbs is able to see a bigger picture in life. He holds a picture of his granddaughter and other pictures that represent certain times in his life, from losing his faith, to a bloody battlefield, a bitter homecoming, and to seeing life in a new light with restored faith.

"When you finally get to the real issue of facing those issues, it's like a rebirth," said Hobbs.

View some of the veterans' work

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)

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