Veterans find comfort in craft kits amid tense times

Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 7:17 AM MST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- This Thanksgiving holiday, veterans and volunteers are lifting up American heroes who have sacrificed so much for this country. As COVID-19 cases surge, and some are struggling with isolation, some are finding comfort in engaging in arts and crafts.

Army veteran Missy Brown says after her deployment to Baghdad, she returned home with battle scars. While healing from traumatic brain injury and PTSD, her medical team prescribed her craft therapy. While she was skeptical about the assignment at first, she soon found it to be transformative.

“If I was in a place that I was uncomfortable or was crowded or I had to wait for my daughter’s bus to come, I could pull out a leather kit and lace it and that kind of distracted me from things that made my anxiety worse,” said Brown, who once served in nuclear biological and chemical warfare reconnaissance.

Thanks to the non-profit Help Heal Veterans – which provides craft kits at no cost to active duty and retired military – Brown says she found comfort in this new creative hobby.

“When you’ve had an injury…that’s an uphill battle. The crafts are a way to really have small victories and those small victories matter.”

These kits are for all different experience and ability levels - from making masks, to woodwork and leatherwork, to jewelry. With the stress and isolation of these times, Help Heal Veterans CEO Joe McClain says demand for these kits tripled.

“We used to do about 30 VA medical centers, now we’re doing 138. We are supplying military bases, Army bases here in the U.S., and overseas,” said McClain, a retired U.S. Navy Captain.

McClain says his mission now is to help lift up other veterans.

“Veterans...will ask for help for anybody but themselves – you know, ‘help my family’, ‘help my neighbor’, ‘help my buddy’, but not themselves, so I think it’s incumbent upon us as neighbors to make sure we look in on that vet out there.”

Since the pandemic hit, 300,000 kits like these have been sent nation-wide. Some kits are designed to help wounded warriors regain fine motor skills. All of the kits are meant to alleviate chronic pain and stress.

“The kits can help – it’s not a silver bullet – you’re not going to do one thing and your depression’s going to be gone the next day, but it’s going to be a battle after battle after battle. And we provide a tool for free that helps a vet or military member win those small battles,” said McClain.

For Brown, she says this hobby helped fill the time after she could no longer do some of her favorite pastimes.

“I have less mobility and have to kind of take things easier than I used to, so it’s been great to have something to take place of things I used to enjoy doing,” said Brown.

“I used to be very outdoorsy and like to go hiking and do really thrill-seeking types of things and my body can’t do those kinds of things anymore. So this has given me a way to take that energy and apply it somewhere else.”

Since 1971, Help Heal Veterans has shipped nearly 50 million kits. They are sent to VA medical centers, military hospitals, veterans homes and other facilities.

Thanks to corporate and private donors, the non-profit says they hope to continue ramping up their distribution, and the kits largely use recycled materials to make these projects possible.

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