Todd Vance is a U.S. Army veteran that was actively serving in the military during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The attack inspired him to reenlist for another three years and volunteer to be part of one of the first units deployed to Iraq.
Vance served as a squad leader for more than 250 combat missions. When he returned home to San Diego he began to suffer from PTSD.
“I turned into a recluse. I was drinking too much.” he said. “Basically anything that would either produce an extreme adrenaline rush or numb my adrenaline rush and the hyper-vigilance and anxiety I was having.”
He was officially diagnosed with PTSD by doctors at his local VA hospital. He was prescribed what he called “a shopping bag full of medications” and sent on his way with various anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications. Vance says that the medications were ineffective and he began abusing them. He says that his life really changed when he took up Mixed Martial arts.
“It gave me the structure, the discipline, the camaraderie, the routine that I needed to have in my life that I was missing so much from the military,” Vance said. “Before training, I had no reason not to drink until 3 in the morning. I was training six days a week, often two times a day, and eating clean.”
Vance was pursing a degree in social work while training at the gym. He decided that the best way he could give back to fellow veterans was by combining his two passions: social work and Mixed Martial Arts.
“I realized I had a passion for working with and for military veterans,” he told CNN.
Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics, or P.O.W; was launched by Vance in 2012. He says that the discipline, camaraderie, and sense of brotherhood formed between training partners is similar to a military lifestyle and gives structure to veterans that feel lost.
“Martial arts is focused on technique and fitness. … We have served more than 275 veterans, and all the success stories we have is a testament to the effectiveness of the program,” he said. “We see people get right out of the military, they’re young, they’re a mess, they don’t have any employment or social skills. Two or three years later, they are working on their master’s degree.”
He says that, despite having a reputation as a violent sport, MMA instills discipline, critical thinking skills, and mindfulness in his fellow fighters.
“It helps people that have anxiety and depression and who are dealing with trauma to be present in the moment,” he said.
According to a study conducted by Vance, the program was responsible for a 90% improvement in physical health; 80% improvement in coping with stress and symptoms of PTSD; and a 100% improvement in reducing the feelings of isolation for over 30 participants.