Arizona Veterans Help Reduce Wildfire Risks While Giving PTSD-Suffering Vets an Escape

by Jennifer Shea
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Arizona faces its share of wildfire risks. But a small startup there is helping to reduce those risks. And it’s giving veterans an escape from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the process.

Verde Earth Technologies (VETs) is based in Cottonwood, Arizona. It deploys across the state on habitat restoration and conservation projects, ABC 15 reports.

For many of the veterans who work for VETs, the projects serve a dual purpose. They give the former soldiers a chance to continue their service by tending to Arizona’s landscape. And, like true Outsiders, the veterans also derive a sense of peace from the time spent outdoors.

Arizona Veterans Work to Prevent Wildfires

Meanwhile, VET has certainly been busy. In the past year alone, it has cleaned out bark beetle infestations in the Hualapai Mountains. The company has uprooted invasive plant species along the Verde River. And it has built fuel breaks near homes in Apache Junction.

Chris Young is a former U.S. Navy sailor who spent a decade in Iraq. He told ABC 15 that PTSD is often disabling for vets, but they’re able to work on the projects the company takes on.

“All the guys have their own connection to the planet and why they’re out here wanting to do it,” he said. “Definitely stewardship and conservancy are probably at the forefront for it all, so it allows us to sleep a little better at night.”

The company is continuing to hire veterans and is on the lookout for new conservation projects to tackle. Among the services they offer: tree removal, invasive species removal, fire prevention, riparian restoration, native plant restoration, bioremediation and water conservation.

PTSD Afflicts Millions of Americans, But Soldiers Are Especially Susceptible

PTSD afflicts roughly 8 million Americans every year, but veterans are at a higher risk of the disorder and face their own particular barriers to treatment.

According to a 2016 study in the journal Pharmacy & Therapeutics, anywhere from 13.5 to 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans show signs of PTSD. The upside to advances in protective gear and battlefield medicine are that soldiers now survive injuries they wouldn’t have before. But that comes at the cost of disabling physical trauma and mental anguish.

Moreover, veterans who do not receive proper treatment for PTSD and learn to manage its symptoms often turn to substance abuse. Another study of veterans of recent wars found that 63 percent of those with alcohol or drug problems also had PTSD.

A sense of purpose and time spent outdoors – which has been shown to reduce stress – can help with the symptoms of PTSD. And the former soldiers at VETs are not just helping themselves. They’re making their environment better for posterity while they’re at it.

Outsider.com