Todd Vance on CNN: Addressing the Hot Topic of PTSD and American Sniper


When P.O.W. was first launched in 2012, the concept was so out-of-the box that non-veterans weren’t sure what to think. MMA-style fitness for combat veterans…isn’t that counter-intuitive?


PTSD was not the topic of the day, like it is now. In fact, we had a hard time getting folks to listen when we said that post 9/11 veterans were different than their predecessors, and that more and varied treatment options were needed. We said prescriptions drugs were not an answer – that physical fitness, mental health and peer support were.


It’s been a tough battle, but we may now be seeing a tipping point in the way Americans perceive PTSD. The fact that CNN called us to weigh in on the debate around American Sniper is just one indication, and a big one at that.


To watch the interview on CNN click here.


The full transcript of this interview, courtesy of CNN, follows:



Aired February 20, 2015 – 10:30   ET

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I’m Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

He thought his co-workers were cannibals — that’s what a psychiatrist told a jury about accused American sniper killer, Eddie Ray Routh. The defense says Routh suffers from mental illness and was battling a severe case of psychosis when he gunned down Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a Texas shooting range.

Yesterday a doctor who treated Routh after the killings told the court that Routh was quote, “delusional” and that he didn’t know what he was doing when he shot and killed both men. Today the prosecution is expected to call medical experts to the stand for rebuttal. And closing arguments could come as early as next week.

The big question remains, did Routh know what he was doing was wrong? Some key moments in the testimony suggest he could have known. Among them, Routh called a psychiatrist quote, “He figured someone would be arrested and that the bible says it’s wrong to kill.” Routh also told his sister he would flee to Oklahoma to quote, “get out of this mess” while his uncle testified that he knew right from wrong.

Let’s talk about this case in a wider sense with Todd Vance. He helps vets deal with PTSD every day. Todd’s also the founder of POW a program that helps reintegrate veterans back into civilian life through MMA style fitness, yoga and peer-to-peer support.

Todd, I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for joining me.


COSTELLO: This trial certainly puts PTSD in the spotlight. On one hand you have Chris Kyle who suffered from PTSD but helped others and on the other hand you have Eddie Ray Routh whose family says he suffered from PTSD but could not function. What should we take away from this trial when it comes to PTSD?

VANCE: I think the simple fact that PTSD is not a clearly diagnosable issue and there’s a scale of severity. It’s not a one size fits all shoe when it comes to PTSD symptomology. So where one person may suffer from PTSD and function well in society, another may need serious psychiatric help. COSTELLO: Do you think Eddie Ray Routh was suffering from PTSD?

VANCE: I would have to see his records to know fully what his level of PTSD was. But being in combat and seeing the things that take place in combat and taking part in those things, it would be a safe assumption.

COSTELLO: So a mental health expert told the court that Routh has a mental illness, not PTSD. From your experience dealing with victims, could Routh’s military service have made an existing mental illness worse?

VANCE: Oh yes, definitely. I think that’s one of the less talked about issues dealing with PTSD and these soldiers and service members coming home is pre-existing mental health illness and issues. The screening process is not very substantial and I think that if they have pre-existing illnesses, combat can definitely set that off.

COSTELLO: Some have questioned why Chris Kyle took Routh to a gun range even after Kyle realized Routh was quote, “nuts”. Can you walk us through why some veterans find gun ranges therapeutic?

VANCE: Yes. I mean first of all, using the word “crazy” or “nuts” in my field is kind of taboo because really in the reality of combat and the reality of what service members have to live is nuts. The scale of what is normal is definitely thrown off.

As far as treatment goes and going through that, yes, that makes sense to me. Going to a range makes sense because it’s something that they’re comfortable with. It’s something that they’re good at. It’s almost like a reassuring comforting activity that they can be together and find a camaraderie and kind of like a safe zone away from civilian life.

COSTELLO: Does it kind of mimic the battlefield in a way and make them feel more comfortable?

VANCE: You know, I would say no. My personal opinion I would say no. I mean service members, we look at weapons not as a normal civilian would where we see Hollywood grenade launchers and things like that.

Weapons become tools of war. So you have the specific weapon for a specific task. The bravado and the chest-thumping especially at these guys’ level is not there. So they’re looking at it as just like a recreational activity.

COSTELLO: And just my final question. I just like to get your thoughts on Chris Kyle in general because he’s become such a heroic figure in this nation. Why do you think that is?

VANCE: Yes. I think that the service members that are fighting the battle on a daily basis, the grunts and the low level soldiers need to get a lot more attention. I think that as a society we like to glorify the upper echelon fighters and that’s important. They are definitely deserving of the attention that they get. But there’s a lot of other branches out there doing great things and I think that, you know, it’s easy to market a Navy SEAL but it’s harder to market an artillery guy with a family.

COSTELLO: I understand. Todd Vance — thanks for your insight. I appreciate it.

VANCE: Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.