On the Bright Side: Veterans find peace in aquarium tank
ATLANTA - Many American combat veterans struggle every day with the trauma of war.
But some are finding inner peace in calm waters.
At the Georgia Aquarium's Ocean Voyager tank, creatures from three oceans dazzle thousands of visitors each day.
Most of them never notice something special swimming along the surface.
Dive master Mike Hilliard leads groups of anxious combat vets.
Like him, many have wounds you can't see.
The retired Army sergeant was shot in the helmet in Iraq.
He battled depression and anger - until he discovered scuba diving.
"You lose an innocence in war. No matter what," he said.
Being underwater helps.
"You get a piece of it back," Hilliard said. "You're able to create another life in that moment."
Studies show this aquatic therapy can be as effective as drugs in reducing anxiety and depression.
But Virginia Brown Davis nearly had a panic attack approaching the water
"I'm afraid of the water," she said.
The 52-year-old former Army staff sergeant developed severe PTSD while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010.
She found her courage and snorkeled with other vets for nearly an hour.
"It was the most relaxing feeling I think I felt in a long time," she said. "That the stress that was - that was over me - I released it ... it was a true release. Absolutely. I was grinning from ear to ear."
More than 22,000 vets and active military have swum in the tank since 2008.
"They're used to protecting themselves," Hilliard said. "Being in this environment, you know, they can let that down."