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Veterans with PTSD, anxiety turn to beekeeping for relief

SeattlePI.com Wednesday, 11 September 2019 ()
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Gently lifting a wooden frame containing dozens of Italian honeybees, Vince Ylitalo seemed transfixed as he and several other veterans inspected the buzzing insects.

"This is really cool," he said, pointing to a bee with blobs of orange pollen on its hind legs.

Ylitalo, who has battled PTSD after serving nearly 40 years in the military including two tours in Iraq, didn't seem bothered by the bees swarming around his head or crawling all over the entrance to their hive. Instead, the 57-year-old logistics expert said the several hours spent working on the two hives each week at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire was a respite of sorts from his anxiety and depression. Known as an apiary, the hives are located next to a lilac garden off a busy street.

"I'm in this program to help me get out of the thought process of all those problems that I have," said Ylitalo, who has struggled since leaving the Army in 2017. "It helps me think of something completely different. ... I'm just thinking about bees."

Researchers are beginning to study whether beekeeping has therapeutic benefits. For now, there is little hard data, but veterans in programs like the one in Manchester insist that it helps them focus, relax and become more productive. The programs are part of a small but growing effort by Veterans Affairs and veteran groups to promote the training of soldiers in farming and other agricultural careers.

Standing near Ylitalo in her white bee suit, Army veteran Wendi Zimmermann said bees have helped her deal with the anxiety she feels outside her home — even though she initially feared being stung. She and Ylitalo are among 12 veterans that have taken part in beekeeping since the program started in May.

"It gives you a chance to shut down and not think about the outside world. It shows...
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