Combat Hippies: Veterans come together to perform, combat PTSD

By  | 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 20% of Iraq War veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder. And that number is expected to rise as troops return home to civilian life.

One group of soldiers took to the stage to cope with PTSD and start the healing process.

The Combat Hippies are a performance group made up of military veterans.

"I deployed in 2004, to Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq," said Anthony Torres, an Army veteran and an executive director, writer and performer with Combat Hippies.

Torres was part of a mental health team sent to help U.S. troops. He didn't realize until years later that he suffered from PTSD.

"Things like hypervigilance, sensitivity to sounds, anxiety, depression," Torres said of the symptoms he experienced.

He started a writing workshop for war veterans. That turned into an ensemble of Puerto Rican military veterans sharing their experiences through spoken word.

Hipolito Arriaga suffered from PTSD when he returned from Iraq.

"I was pushing people away, I wasn't talking, I was isolating," said Arriaga, a writer and performer. "And I can't just sit home on the couch and disconnect from the world; I have to come here and work."

The show, titled "Amal," is a raw look at war, death and drug addiction.

"Every time we go in, we shed tears, and those tears are real," actor and Vietnam veteran Angel Rodriguez said.

It is a process that is helping veterans through the healing process and encouraging others coping with trauma to do the same.

"I'm doing this not to perform but to save my own life," Arriaga said.

The show is made up of a mix of spoken word, live and recorded music. The Combat Hippies are on a national tour and have played cities like Miami, Denver and Milwaukee.

REPORT #2682

BACKGROUND: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to a potentially traumatic event such as violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat, and other forms of violence. About one half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, but most do not develop PTSD. People who experience PTSD may have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of the event(s), experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or may be easily startled. In severe forms, PTSD can significantly impair a person's ability to function at work, at home, and socially. More than 8 million Americans between the age of 18 and older have PTSD. About 67 percent of people exposed to mass violence have been shown to develop PTSD, which is a higher rate than those exposed to natural disasters or other types of traumatic events. PTSD can also affect children and members of the military. (Source: and

PTSD: WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The severity and duration of PTSD varies with each individual. Some recover within six months, while others can suffer for many years. Individuals with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma which can include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event. The individual may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the individual once enjoyed. Other individuals experience increased arousal. These can include excessive emotions, problems relating to others, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, and being "jumpy" or easily startled. The individual may suffer from physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea. Negative cognitions and mood refer to thoughts and feelings related to blame, estrangement, and memories of the traumatic event. Young children with PTSD may suffer from delayed development in areas such as toilet training, motor skills, and language. (Source:

PROMISING TREATMENT: An international study has shown that MDMA, also known as ecstasy, may be a valuable tool for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study demonstrated substantial improvements in individuals who had not responded to prior treatments, explains University of British Columbia Okanagan, associate professor of psychology, Zach Walsh. This is also the most comprehensive evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. "PTSD symptoms decreased after one session of MDMA together with psychotherapy," says Walsh. He adds that, "54 percent of participants no longer met PTSD criteria after two sessions and that there was also improvement in their symptoms of depression." Based on these results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted breakthrough therapy to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, acknowledging that it "may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies" and agreeing to expedite its development and review. (Source: