Vets using adaptive airgun program as therapy to overcome PTSD and physical disabilities

DENVER -- Keith Gleason is ex-Army and suffers from PTSD.

"With PTSD, it sets me back, a lot,” he told Denver7 contributor Hanna Atkinson.  “At times it makes me have anxiety attacks, makes me want to stay indoors.  It keeps me from wanting to do anything."

Gleason was invited to take part in a new competitive air gun program run by the National Sports Center for the Disabled.

He thinks of shooting as therapy.

"It's relaxing to me.  It makes me sit back and look at the target and just say, 'I can do this,'" he said.

There are 15 to 20 participants each month, directed here by the local VA.

Josh Thurmond of the NSCD says the program is really good for people who want to focus their minds.

“Shooting is something that is very calm,” Thurmond explained. “We teach the same breathing techniques here as they do in yoga.  So people are very relaxed, to a Zen state, then they fire their weapon."

Gleason describes what it’s like to fire the gun.

“With the breath, I pull that trigger.  I see that shot go,” he said. “I put that anger right on that bullet and let it go down range."

The program uses special air guns that can be adapted to accommodate just about any disability, including a sip and puff system for people who don’t have use of their arms.

“You shoot just by blowing through a straw," is how Thurmond describes it.

The program is run out of the Denver Police Department's indoor shooting range and DPD officers are the instructors.

They were trained how to teach those with disabilities by the U.S. Paralympic shooting team in Colorado Springs and one night every other week, after their 10-hour shifts, they come here and volunteer their time.

"Almost everybody here looks forward to these nights when we get to have these people come in," Sgt. James Smith said. "I think it builds their confidence.  Their skills are building.  They are coaching each other now -- taking care of each other."

The shooting program was developed for wounded military veterans -- offered to them free of charge thanks to a series of grants.  But now it’s being offered to anyone with a disability.

"When I leave, I'm just so stoked I did better -- doing better each and every time I fire," Gleason added. “With this, it makes me want to come out and do things again."

The National Sports Center for the Disabled offers many sports programs for people with disabilities.  You can learn more information about what’s being offered this season on their website.

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