LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- They are far from home, surrounded by danger on all sides. Then a shot or an explosion changes their lives forever. The effects of war can be devastating, both physically and mentally. But one non-profit agency is working to heal those wounds through Mother Nature.
Rivers of Recovery is essentially a therapy program for returning veterans. It is only a 3 day retreat, but according to medical professionals examining the program, those who utilize it show a dramatic decrease in PTSD symptoms for as long as 6 months, proving the great outdoors to be a true place of healing.
An early spring morning on the White River is a perfect day to go fishing. For James Aguilar, fly fishing is far more relaxing than his day job.
"I spent 21 years in the National Guard. 8 years of it was active duty on multiple deployments. I've been on four different deployments, been hit by a couple dozen roadside bombs," says Aguilar.
Now, he is home for good but good doesn't describe his adjustment back to civilian life.
"A lot of anxiety, being around lots of crowds," says Aguilar.
"I guess it's abnormal but normal for us," says Levi Crawford. He is in a different boat but with a similar story.
"We got RPGS, mortars and small arms and I got hit with an RPG," says Crawford.
That RPG did severe damage to Crawford's face and arm.
"They did some surgeries and stuff and I was like, "Wow, ya'll got me better looking now than before. Can I just pick out a face in a magazine?" Just take it with a smile, joke about it, that's my best way of dealing with it I guess," says Crawford.
In fact, that is what all these men have in common on the White River. Warriors on a fishing trip healing wounds they may never have known they had without each other.
'It's the brotherhood of being in the service and they feel much more comfortable talking to each other so they open up almost immediately," says Dan Cook. He is the founder of Rivers of Recovery, a program that provides therapy to veterans in the form of a fishing trip.
"It's essentially tools that they can use to mitigate and manage symptoms of post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, those are primary symptoms of suicide," says Cook.
"You're bringing in fish. You're not worried about what's behind you or anything else. You're just worried about if that bobber's going under and where the fish are and how many you got," says Crawford.
"We ain't army, we're not navy, we're not marines, air force. We're just all wounded warriors out here," says John Jones.
Jones knows all about being wounded. After almost being declared killed in action, he's made a full recovery from wounds he got in Iraq in 2007.
"Every time I pushed up on my nose it hurt. Well, they splinted it and didn't put it in the paperwork and I said, 'Why did they do that?' They said, 'Oh they wanted it to be straight for your funeral. I was like,'Oh, that's cool. Can I get it out though?" says Jones.
'It's as if they develop a passion for life again. They are much more outgoing, they are kidding around with each other, they are smiling, they're laughing," says Cook.
"It's not something that you want to forget but it's just something you've got to learn to deal with," says Aguilar.
"Get away, do something like this, just alleviate some of that stress and get back to life," says Crawford.
Fishing isn't all they do. Cook says they practice yoga in the mornings and teach them other ways to calm their anxiety in stressful situations.
The cost to do this for each person is about $2,000 but for the veteran, it is free. Rivers of Recoveryis a non-profit and relies solely on donations from companies and foundations. This is their fifth year and their first time to be hosting trips in Arkansas.