Diver making an okay sign.

A Virginia Non-Profit Makes Scuba Diving Possible for Veterans With Disabilities

Scuba diving has become a reality for over 750 wounded military veterans, thanks to Patriots for Disabled Divers (PFDD). Retired US Navy Captain Jeff Currer and his wife, Merial, launched PFDD in 2013. The non-profit, which was inspired by Patriot Scuba (now Patriot Diving) in Occoquan, Virginia, helps veterans discover a new sport and healing by obtaining their Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) scuba diving certification.

Healing Below Sea Level

Patriots for Disabled Divers supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, and other physical injuries to realize their scuba diving dreams. The non-profit strives to cover the full cost of PADI certification for these individuals and support a licensed caregiver to become PADI certified, serving as a built-in dive buddy.

Scuba diving holds immense healing power. PFDD lists several benefits, including relief of physical pain, a sense of feeling in control over one’s movement, and the ability to fully participate in an activity alongside their family and friends.

A New Hobby

Diver preparing his equipment.
Photo Credit: PADI.

Bryan Anderson is one of the many success stories of veterans with disabilities obtaining scuba diving certifications. Anderson is a retired US Army SGT and a triple amputee who sustained injuries during his service in Iraq. He spent 13 months in rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is among the few triple amputees who survived his injuries in Iraq.

On Anderson’s 20th anniversary of his deployment to Iraq, PFDD and PADI joined forces to help him become a PADI Open Water Diver.

Diving Without Four Limbs

Divers on the edge of a boat.
Photo Credit: PADI.

Anderson lost both legs and his left hand due to injuries from an Improvised Explosive Device. But that didn’t stop Anderson’s former Battalion Commander in Iraq and future PADI instructor, Robert ‘Bob’ Taradash, from convincing him to try scuba diving.

Fast forward to Catalina Island, California, where Anderson successfully completed his PADI dive course with Taradash’s guidance. Now, Anderson wants other people with disabilities to achieve the same. “You always have that thought in the back of your head, ‘Well, maybe you’re not going to get there. Maybe something will limit you,’” he says. “But I worked through it, didn’t panic, and being a triple amputee, I completed everything that I needed to become a certified PADI Open Water Diver.”

Divers exploring kelp.
Photo Credit: PADI.

Taradash couldn’t agree more about Anderson’s hope for others who are unsure about getting their scuba diving certifications. “Just by the fact of him doing this, it might inspire others – disabled or not – to put on a tank, take their first breath underwater, and enjoy the undersea world. I think Bryan’s story, in his adventure to breathe underwater, is going to be part of the lasting legacy in Bryan’s journey to inspire others.”

Opportunities Across the Nation

Although PFDD was founded in Virginia, they’ve expanded their services to PADI dive shops in several states, including:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

People with disabilities who aren’t veterans have an array of options for learning to scuba dive. PADI offers adaptive service facilities at dive centers across the globe. Trained staff in adaptive diving techniques work at these facilities, including for divers-to-be with physical, psychological, or mental challenges.

Parting Inspiration

Anderson says, “If you’ve had the thought like you might want to try diving and you’re stopping yourself because your mind is stopping you and you think you can’t, I want to show you that you can.”

If you’re still on the fence about whether to try diving, Anderson’s PADI video may inspire you to join him in becoming a certified open water diver.

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