WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - It's a free program that takes all veterans--even those with less-than-honorable discharges.
"After surviving a war we see them drink themselves to death. We see them overdose. We see them commit suicide. And we've got to stop that," said a man in the film, "Almost Sunrise."
The film tells the story of Tom Voss, and Anthony Anderson, two Iraq veterans who walked 2,700 miles from Wisconsin to California, hoping to clear their heads of the anger and depression they felt and to bring awareness to difficulties many veterans face.
"Every single step you take had the potential to end your life, or take your limbs," said Former Staff Sergeant Travis Hall describing his first day in Afghanistan when he had to walk through an area "laced with IEDs." Nobody died that day.
Hall served 12 years with the Marine Corps Reserves which included two combat missions. In Afghanistan, he witnessed an explosion detection man's legs getting blown off and saw another marine die after stepping on an IED--improvised explosive device.
"For a long time I felt like there was something more I could've done to prevent (his death). Maybe I could've convinced our platoon leader to go a different route," said Hall who now lives in Fredericksburg, Va.
He's learned to not be traumatized by the guilt and "moral injury" as it's called. The main tool he uses to stay calm is a yoga-based breathing practice he learned from the non-profit organization Project Welcome Home Troops.
"It's so difficult to talk our way out of anxiety, depression or anger. But through the breath, you go right into your sympathetic nervous system. You calm down your heart rate, calm down your blood pressure," said Dr. Emma Seppala, a Stanford and Yale psychologist who is is studying the techniques taught at Project Welcome Home Troops. She says her research shows it works.
"After a week, we find that the veterans that participated in our study, who had all been in Iraq or Afghanistan, had normalized anxiety after one week. And the benefits remained one month later and even one year later. So it's a shift, a bettering," said Dr. Seppala. Unlike that anxiety medication that treats the symptoms, the breathing technique gives veterans a free tool to help heal themselves, anytime, anywhere, she explains. She's containing the study with a group so vets at VA in Palo Alta.
Tom Voss, who walked that 2,700-mile journey, now works for Project Welcome Troops teaching it's five-day Power Breath Meditation Workshop.
Travis Hall is in training to be an instructor. He says helping other veterans has helped him immensely.
"Veterans are very apprehensive to, I think a lot of people are apprehensive to seek help. Because you first have to admit that you have a problem," said Hall.
Convincing veterans to learn breathing techniques, meditation or yoga can be difficult, says Hall. But when the teacher is a combat-veteran like Hall, they're a bit more accepting.
"Unfortunately, some people have to get rock bottom before they get help. But it doesn't have to be that way," said Hall, who's has come a long way with his own recovery, "I think the bad days are not nearly as back and the good days are greater."
Project Welcome Home Troops's Power Breath Meditation Workshops are offered around the country and are free to any veteran and his or her family who needs help. Even veterans who receive a less-than-honorable discharge.