REGION — A recent Department of Veterans Affairs’ study reported an average of 17 veterans died by suicide every day in 2018 — more than 6,000 a year.
One More Wave, a veteran-based non-profit in San Diego, uses surf therapy to try and impact those figures.
The team of veterans and volunteers provide disabled veterans with the surf equipment necessary to paddle out as well as a community.
“Once you have your stuff, equipment and access to other folks, you can do it indefinitely,” One More Wave’s chief of operations Rob Garnett said. “You don’t have to have appointments or procedures; you can do what you need to do outside.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 37 to 50% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from one mental disorder or another. Many of the men and women who participate in surf therapy with One More Wave previously struggled with treatment options.
Often times self-medicating with drugs or alcohol — approximately one in 10 veterans in the United States have a substance abuse problem.
“We’ve had quite a few vets come forward and say they tried a bunch of meds from the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) — some for mental issues, other physical — but since they started surfing, they have been able to come off some or all of those meds,” Garnett said. “Lots of guys and girls talk about how they missed the community that came with their military service.”
Garnett and the One More Wave team have treated about 470 veterans and aim to help another 120 riders in 2021. But their funding has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their budget is about $200,000 below their operating costs for the year. All of their funds come from private donations and small fundraising events.
If the VA task force reports positive results, veterans could be prescribed surf therapy and the federal agency would help pay for programs like One More Wave. More funding means more equipment for additional veterans, ideally making a dent in the veteran suicide dilemma.
“It would be incredible if we got grants per rider for their equipment,” Garnett said. “They have grants for adaptive sports, but [they have] very specific parameters. But with this new bill, hopefully, it will open those doors up.”
Last year’s Veterans COMPACT Act, signed into law last December, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to assemble a task force to investigate the benefits of outdoor recreational therapy for veterans as a recognized form of treatment.
The bipartisan bill, H.R. 8247, calls on the VA to implement a series of programs to aid veterans in transition assistance, suicide care and mental health needs.
This includes forming a task force to report on and make recommendations regarding the use of public lands and outdoor spaces for medical and therapeutic treatment for veterans.