Desert Storm Veteran Tom Marchetti had the opportunity to put a fly fishing rod in his hands July 21, at Coatesville VA Medical Center for the first time thanks to the dedicated group of volunteers from the Coatesville VAMC Program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Marchetti grew up near Cape May, New Jersey and served as a rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy from 1993 to 2003. He has enjoyed saltwater fishing but never had an interest in fly fishing until now.
Finding the program
Introduced to Project Healing Waters through a peer support specialist from the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center and recommended by his health care provider, Marchetti began attending online fly tying sessions once he arrived at the Coatesville VAMC with the volunteers a few weeks ago.
Project Healing Waters hit a milestone by hosting this in-person event after more than 18 months of virtual events.
They don't stop so we can't stop
Back in the day, "we always thought of teaching someone to tie flies as a hands-on experience so hosting sessions virtually has been quite a challenge," said Ken Vangilder, Program Lead, Coatesville Program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Project Healing Waters was hosting weekly in-person classes on the campus for years prior to the implementation of restrictions required to protect the residents and inpatients at Coatesville VAMC from the coronavirus.
"All of a sudden that stopped, but these [Veterans] didn't stop," explained Jim Dowd, Project Healing Waters volunteer. "They were still here, going through what they were going through and dealing with what they were dealing with."
I need something to take me away from my PTSD
Tying flies requires a high level of concentration that many Veterans working through addiction or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) learn to enjoy.
"I suffer from PTSD and I need something to take my attention away from that," said Marchetti. "Hopefully I'll get out on a lake or river with these guys. If not, they're going to connect me with the program up in Wilkes-Barre and I'm going to stay with the program."
Serving wounded service members
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing began serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005 and has expanded its highly successful program nationwide to include the Coatesville VAMC community since 2013.
According to the Project Healing Waters website, Service members who have been wounded, ill, diseased, injured or obtained a medical condition during their active military service in line of duty and are recommended to take part by their military health care provider may be eligible to participate.