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Dolphin boat tour helps veterans battling mental struggles

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Posted at 8:42 PM, Sep 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-25 21:42:29-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Mental health is a topic that is prevalent among the veterans community. Issues like PTSD, anxiety, and depression can come out of a military member’s time at war or in their day-to-day routines in the military.

TC Chadden is a Vietnam War veteran struggling with depression and PTSD.

“When you have a good friend of yours just getting shot and he falls down inside your arms, you don’t know what the hell to think. It messes with your mind,” Chadden said.

He said he has nightmares often, even to this day, but that’s not the only mental thing he struggles with. On Saturday he got the chance to go on a dolphin tour boat through Dolphin Connection.

“I was even thinking about doing the thing called suicide and they didn’t tell me about this until I think yesterday and I said that’s something that I wanted to do for a long time!” Chadden said when asked about his time on the dolphin tour boat.

Kelley Burnett owns Dolphin Connection in Ingleside on the Bay and was talking to a local veteran about his experiences. That’s when she decided to offer up her business for veterans that are struggling with mental issues. Now she’s hoping to have the veteran tour at least once a month.

“What a better way to help somebody with PTSD or somebody who has issues, to get them on a boat and really, you know, literally, you can have a whole new mindset and perspective,” Burnett said.

PTSD is something that veteran JJ De la Cerda also struggles with. He is a Nueces County Veteran Services officer and is hoping to help veterans struggling with mental issues.

“If we’re going through that situation, more than likely somebody else is going through that situation and we’ve got to help each other,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11 to 20% of veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. That number goes up to about 30% of Vietnam War veterans who have had it in their lifetime.

But PTSD is only one of the mental struggles that veterans can face. In addition to PTSD, Michael Bellipanni struggles with feeling isolated and his service dog Bandit helps him battle it. He said the dolphin tour today, helped him connect with other veterans.

“It’s a concerted effort to try and get people out. They get locked into being isolated and it’s a terrible thing if you do that. It’s definitely not therapeutic but this has been…had a blast. It was fantastic!” Bellipanni said.

Rebekah Rivera also went on the dolphin tour. She just moved to the Coastal Bend in July after being in the military. She said she struggles with anxiety because she’s adjusting to being out of the military, which she said gave her a structured lifestyle.

“It helped me as far as being comfortable around and going out and feeling comfortable meeting new people. I mean I felt right at home. This made me feel the best I’ve felt since I’ve gotten out,” she said.