More than 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Department of Defense.
New research suggests one way to combat the symptoms is through meditation.
David George was sleeping in his cot during his deployment to Iraq when a car bomb exploded 25 yards away.
“I turn the lights on, and see a white cloud billowing into the room,” the 27-year-old recalls. “All the windows were blown out.”
Since then, he's struggled with PTSD, is often anxious, angry and depressed. At one point, back at home in Maryland, he stopped himself from buying a pistol.
“I never bought a pistol because I was pretty sure I was going to shoot myself,” George said.
His mother noticed a change in her son’s behavior, too. “When he came back, he was not the boy I raised,” Julia Elena George said.
Medications and therapy didn't help. George started drinking heavily.
Then he joined a study for veterans with PTSD using transcendental meditation, a mind-based practice involving repeating a mantra to focus one's thoughts.
“It made me feel, and that's the biggest sense I lost,” George said. “From that moment, I knew it was something I'd do for the rest of my life.”
The study's findings are published in this month's Military Medicine journal. The study found participants saw their symptoms reduced by half within two months of participating in the meditation.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal says transcendental meditation settles down the nervous system.
“People become calmer, less reactive, less jumpy,” he said. “I think the time is right for us to seriously consider this as a viable treatment.”
George meditates twice a day and says he finally feels like himself again.
“There's something else than pills or therapies or substance abuse - there's yourself that you can always count on,” he said.
George is working with operation warrior wellness and the David Lynch foundation to reach their goal to help 30,000 veterans through transcendental meditation in the next three years.