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HBO Real Sports: MMA fight team working with veterans to combat PTSD

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The P.O.W. fight team might not be as recognizable as the American Kickboxing Academy or the Blackzilians, but no team in the sport takes on tougher opponents.

The Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics team -- or P.O.W., for short -- battles foes like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse among returning veterans who make up its roster. HBO’s Real Sports debuts a 12-minute segment tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT examining how mixed martial arts helps veterans cope with the mental tolls of war.

“Getting punched by [POW teammates], getting taken down and submitted by them makes me very centered,” veteran-turned-pro MMA fighter Shane Krutchen tells HBO’s correspondent Soledad O’Brien. “It my Zen.”

O’Brien’s characterizations of MMA as violence that is “brutal” and “ruthless” may grate the sport’s cognoscenti, but be kind, she’s speaking to a larger audience. P.O.W. fighters and founder, Todd Vance, make a compelling case for MMA as a legitimate therapy for the more than 250,000 veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with PTSD.

When O’Brien asks Vance if the San Diego-based P.O.W. is really group therapy masquerading as a fight club, Vance smiles and says, “Just don’t tell them that.” But with an average of 22 veterans committing suicide each day, it’s a story -- and an approach -- that can’t be kept quiet. 

-- Melissa Segura

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