Scuba Diving for Veterans Who Have PTSD and TBI

I am a 100% Service Disabled Veteran with PTSD and a TBI.  I am a PADI DIvemaster and I scuba dive on a regular basis.  I overheard a complete idiot telling a person that Veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries can’t scuba dive.  This moron went on to explain that Veterans with PTSD and TBI’s who do scuba dive are faking disabilities because of the obvious evidence that scuba diving is a stressful experience and exacerbates symptoms related to PTSD.

veteran ptsd tbi scuba divingI really hate it when people make strong statements with no actual or accurate knowledge on a topic.  It is no wonder why scores of Veterans, including the severely disabled, flock to scuba diving because of its calming and therapeutic effects on the body.  The Veteran’s Administration (VA) recognizes the value of scuba diving for disabled Veterans and has in-house programs in place to provide certification programs free-of-charge throughout the country.  There are additional programs that are directly funded by the VA.

It is no wonder that many large Veteran organizations including: The Wounded Warrior Project, Project Rebirth, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others, offer scuba diving certification to their members.  It is no wonder that one of the most popular VA Vocational Rehabilitation educational program is Scuba Diving Instruction.  The Veteran community has long known the positive effects of scuba diving for disabled Veterans.  I can’t count the amount of disabled veterans that I’ve met while diving.  The instructor who taught me Rescue Diving and Divemaster (DM) is a 100% service disabled Veteran and his primary Divemaster is 90%.  I finished my DM program with a retired Army Colonel who is also 100%.  It should be noted that all persons receiving or giving training were service disabled Veterans.

Like most Veterans, it just pisses me off when I hear people talking out their ass about what disabled Vets can and can’t do.  This moron solidified his ignorance when I overheard him say “you can’t prove PTSD and TBI- the VA just rubber stamps those claims.”  In reality, the VA denies upwards of 80% of all claims for disability.

Why is Scuba Diving so beneficial to Disabled Veterans?

I feel happy and calm when I am in the water scuba diving.  It feels completely different from swimming or sitting on a beach.  I notice significant decreases in anxiety and depression that exists in much of my daily life.  It is common for Veterans to discuss challenges with each other and I have heard many others who have the feelings.  We often feel a strong relief of symptoms for days to come after diving.  Like many Vets, I have sleep problems that have persisted for decades.  I can safely say that my sleep is much improved after diving.  A good night’s sleep has many benefits that carry forward into my life.

Washington Post article: The researchers speculate that the physical improvements may have something to do with an interaction between nitrogen, which is pumped into a diver’s bloodstream at a high rate, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter well-known for its feel-good effects but less known for its role in the spinal cord. The theory, Becker says, goes like this: “The increased levels of nitrogen will translate in your nervous system into increased levels of serotonin, and these increased levels of serotonin act on the cells in the spinal cord and the brain, which seems to improve their function.”

An expert of the John’s Hopkins Medicine research (9/2011) “But the most striking psychological impact was seen in PTSD symptoms, which decreased, on average, by 80 percent in those veterans who went diving. Escaping to a tranquil beach setting, Kaplin says, wouldn’t be enough to account for such an apparent escape from PTSD symptoms.”

“On 16 DEC 2009 a briefing was held by former Secretary of the Army Martin Hoffman in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in the treatment of brain injuries. During the presentation, Sec. Hoffman highlighted the need for additional funding and research into the treatment of the numerous traumatic brain injuries (TBI) from Iraq and Afghanistan by Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT 1.5). The 1.5 in the acronym represents the treatment atmospheric pressure of 1.5 atmospheres. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a well-tested option in treating at least 13 other medical conditions.

The Army Warrior Transition Unit began scuba therapy for soldiers transitioning out of the Army who had PTSD and TBI injuries.

I hope that all Veterans continue to explore the many benefits of scuba diving for fun and therapy.  I would love to hear from other Veterans who have had positive experiences with scuba diving.  Please comment below!

Becoming a Dive Master- Zero to Hero

I hit 60 dives yesterday while assisting with a class of new students.  It is hard to comprehend that I had never taken an underwater dive prior to starting my first class less just over 3 months ago.  I took the route, which is referred to as” zero to hero.  I scheduled most of my training in advance and moved from one certification to the next in quick succession.

Dive Master- Zero to Hero

A Dive Master’s day can be tiring but is truly rewarding!

I feel happy about my competency and I learn a few things in each new dive.  My skills are definitely coming up and I am proud of my pace of study.  I really enjoy working with new students and helping them to overcome difficulties underwater.  I am getting through with my dive master training program and I have only a few skills left before I will take my assessment test.  I am anxious to finish but the next few months will be filled with helping with classes, much the same as I do currently.

I descended to 95 feet on a deep dive over the weekend at the quarry.  It was a good dive but it was extremely cold, 46 degrees.  I’ve gone deep before but this was a new spot and the visibility was very low in the dark murky water.  I realized quickly that I need to invest in a new dive light that has powerful LED and lumens.

I completed my mapping project in an underwater navigational dive.  I was really surprised that I was able to get exactly where I needed to go by use of my compass and computer, through the murky water.  This was a much longer and challenging dive than others that I have done in the past.  I realized that I need to trust in the compass and pay close attention because of the low visibility water.  I figured out that I need to invest in a better dive slate.  I’ve seen a lot of divers with wrist mounted versions and I plan to get one on today.

I feel confident in my gear and I am happy that I got quality stuff that should last me a decade or so with good maintenance.  I realized I need a new pair of fins that fit better and has spring straps.

I decided to set goals for myself as I progressed through my training.  My next goal is to hit 120 dives before we leave Austin in July and get scheduled for my Instructor Development Course (IDC) in August or September.  I plan to get certified to teach 5 specialties at the same time so I can get my Master Scuba Diver Trainer rating at the same time.  My plan is to teach in the Florida Keys during the winter until we make the gulf crossing in December.  I think I am on track to accomplish my goals.


Dive Master In-Training- What Is It?

dive master training padu scuba robb hamicI officially became a Dive Master in training yesterday when I completed my 40 required dives to enter the program.  It was easy for me to get all of the various certifications through Rescue Diver because there was a formal class and I set aside blocks of time to study.  I amassed a number of additional dives but I was still 25 short.  I think that this is a common problem for dive master candidates.

How Do You Get Additional Dives

It was hard for me to get the dives, in a way because it is just turning spring in Texas and it is cold.  On the other hand, I have a boat so I can take diving friends along to get dives in.  I went out over the weekend but the water was really cold and I only got five dives in.  I was really anxious to get my underwater time taken care of so I could officially start the program.  People who live on the ocean have a big advantage over people who live inland because the ocean is right there.  I ultimately found a warm water spring where I could live underwater for about six combined hours over the past couple days.  i was so happy when i saw dive #40 in my log book!

Start DM Training

I start my training full-throttle tomorrow.  I will be assisting with a class of open water and certified scuba divers.  There are many required learning skills that must be completed in order to take the dive master test and complete the program.  I set my sights on finishing the program in a month so I will be working hard.  During the training I will be working side by side with my instructor’s dive master.  They work together really closely and I feel like I am getting two teachers for the price of one.  I understand that a lot of instructors teach solo.

I am really looking forward to working on my program and gaining a lot of experience each week as I assist in class.  I look at my Dive Master friend Jason.  He handles so much for the instructor.  It is interesting to observe the different roles in scuba diving.  A class really moves really smooth with a  good DM.  They handle so many problems underwater, which frees up the instructors time to teach and lead dives in the training area.  Students have a lot of questions and it is hard for an instructor to be there to answer them all.  That is where a good DM comes in.  An instructor can teach a beggar class with the assistance of a DM and that is also a plus.

Dive Master Pay Sucks
ride to dive harley diving scuba master

Ride to Dive! I loaded up my Harley for a trip to the springs in my Dive Master training.

Dive Masters are a bit underpaid in the industry, from what I have seen.  There is the ability to teach Emergency First Aid and CPR classes and they can also become an instructor for underwater photography to earn money.  Otherwise a DM works for tips.  The industry standard is $10 per tank of air used, but that seems low to me.  A lot of time is spent, when you calculate the time that a DM takes out of his schedule to commute to class, teach, answer questions after and then go to lunch to do log books.  DM’s often work more than anyone at the dive spot.  Who do you think hauls all of the tanks and equipment around?

My advice for scuba students is to look to the dive master as a resource and pick their brain.  They are very knowledgable and helpful.  You’ll get more out of your learning experience.

4 Steps- Become a Rescue Diver!

rescue diver paid become scuba emergency action plan eap course cost review

Rescue Divers respond to water emergencies

I think the Rescue Diver course is a good idea for any diver, especially the people who dive frequently.    Rescue Divers take recreational scuba diving to the next level by learning tools and techniques to help people who have problems in and out of the water.  It is a really good feeling to know that you can save a diver underwater if necessary or observe issues that arise before they cause a problem.  The course is very demanding and difficult but well worth it in the education and confidence you gain.

I remember when I took my Open Water Diver course and I noticed the more experienced people around me.  Diving is an intimidating sport and the learning curve is steep.  Experienced divers get to see a different world of scuba, even before they ascend into the depths.  Gearing up seems effortless.  They have excellent buoyancy and get the most from their underwater experience by working effortlessly.  Rescue Divers enjoy the benefits of experience combined with advanced life saving skills. Continue reading

PADI Enriched Air Diver Specialty Certification

I completed the PADI Enriched Air Diver course tonight.  It was a good certification and I think it will be useful in for me in my diving career.  This seems like a good skill to add for any diver, especially people who are going on resort dives.  Most people take the class so that they can stay down longer than compared with normal air.  I took the class so that I can stay down longer to take pictures of all that goes on underwater. Enriched Air (Nitrox) is a blended gas that is usually 32% or 36% oxygen and divers who use it enjoy more dive time, longer no decompression limits  and more options for exploring the seas.  I know I will be diving in the Caribbean at 18 meters a lot and having nitrox will allow me to stay down for much longer.  At 18 meters air would allow me to dive for 56 minutes, 32% nitrox at 95 minutes and 36% nitrox at 125 minutes. Continue reading

Becoming a PADI Divemaster

I decided that I would detail my research, experiences and process of becoming a PADI Divemaster because there is little information on the Internet from the perspective of a candidate dive master.  In doing my research, I Googled various search terms that all lead me to pages of websites selling the opportunity to become a Divemaster.  I find that it is hard to actually glean much information from programs trying to sell a service.  I asked a number of my previous instructors to give me details of the program offered through my local dive center.  The responses I received were varied and different, even at the same school because much of the program is self-paced.  I learned that the training varies from school to school, which further confuses things.  I thought that there might be others out there in the same position, thus my blog series on becoming a Divemaster was decided.

North Shore, St. Croix, USVI

North Shore, St. Croix, USVI

Continue reading

So You Want to be a PADI Divemaster…

The Shores of St. Croix

The Shores of St. Croix, USVI

I recently decided that I wanted to take the training to become a PADI Divemaster.  The Divemaster rating is the first professional certification in the PADI evolution for divers and most people never contemplate it.  After doing a little research on the program, I can see why!  It makes sense to me that a Divemaster’s skills need to be really solid to teach and lead dives.  While every diver is responsible for their own safety, a Divemaster is responsible for everyone’s collective well-being.  My Divemasters have been jack of all trades and have a great deal of knowledge.  I decided to pursue the course last night as I contemplate finishing my Rescue Diver certification in a couple of weeks.

I figured that the learning curve would be pretty steep but after a little research, I saw that a Divemaster’s endurance and swimming assessment is certainly no joke.  One portion of the training is this assessment, which is daunting.  It is completed on the same day with no rest between the watermanship stamina exercises.  All skills are timed and points are awarded for performance.  A candidate must pass with a minimum of 12 points out of a possible 20.  I have never settled for mediocre or barely passing so I set the following goals for myself.  If I complete it as stated, I will get 19/20 points.

400 M swim with no gear or goggles- 6-8 minutes

800 M swim with snorkel gear, face down and not using hands- 13-15 minutes

15 minutes of treading water and or floating, hold arms out of water for the last 2 minutes

100 M diver pull in full gear, pulling a tired diver who wears full gear- less than 2 minutes

I think this will be fun to train.  I have never been a swimmer and frankly, I have never swam laps.  I am going to take a few swim lessons to hone my skills.  Luckily, we have been working out regularly and my cardio is getting much better.  Thankfully, I have lost about 20 lb. in the last 3 months, which makes me want to run like Forrest.    I will need to incorporate about 5 days worth of pool time per week into what I am already doing for exercise.  I love the fact that Aubrey gets in the pool with me and swims laps.  The kids are even swimming a few times per week and making good progress.  We are turning into a pod of dolphins!

It is strange to think of our transformation from land dwellers to being in the water so much in just a few short months.  We will be leaving dry land for the boat and uncharted waters in less than five months.  We are so excited!

I Survived the PADI Advanced Open Water Course!

IMG_2071-EditI spent the last couple of days diving and completed the P.A.D.I Advanced Open Water certification course.  It was a useful course and I recommend it to other divers.  This advanced course is a must for PADI divers who want to move on to be a Master Scuba Diver certification or divers who want to go the professional route to become a Divemaster.   Continue reading