Project Healing Waters volunteer Bill Coyne of Brentwood was guest speaker at the March meeting of Shelbyville/Bedford County Vietnam Era Veterans. Coyne, a Vietnam veteran, represents a non-profit organization that helps provide emotional and physical rehabilitation to disabled military service members and disabled veterans by teaching them the art of fly fishing.
(T-G Photo by Sherry Miller)
Coyne serves as regional director over all of the Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky chapters. He began as a volunteer with the project in Ft. Campbell approximately two years ago when he was a member of a Nashville fly fishing club.
"That's where we get our volunteers," he explained. "We supply the rods, waders, anything it takes."
The program is more than a one-day fishing trip.
"It is an on-going program, not just a one-time deal," he said.
Project Healing Waters provides basic fly fishing, casting, fly tying, and rod building classes and clinics. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided to the participants at no cost. Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided free of charge.
"It takes about $300 to put a veteran in the water," Coyne said. "We are not sponsored by the government. We depend on donations and grants."
In order to have a viable program, according to information from projecthealingwaters.org, three groups must co-exist: a fly fishing club willing to provide the volunteers and organize the program; a DOD or VA medical facility willing to host the program, and injured military members or disabled veterans willing to participate.
The closest program, and also one of the largest, is based in Murfreesboro. Lynchburg Fly Fishing Club members, along with the Veterans Recovery Center in Murfreesboro, work with disabled veterans in the area.
Fishing trips to rivers, hatcheries and private ponds give disabled veterans a chance to try out newly learned skills. With four stocked ponds and access to the Duck River, Arrowhead Ranch in Normandy has been one popular local site for such events.
Since its inception, PHWFF has been helping disabled active duty personnel and veterans to overcome the obstacles associated with their military service-related disabilities. The relearning of the fine motor skills required in fly fishing and fly tying has proven to be particularly effective in the overall rehabilitation of the disabled, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Information from the VA states that while PHWFF emphasizes the skills of fly fishing and fly tying to help the patients regain the use of their damaged bodies, perhaps the greatest benefit is in the realization that a more normal life is possible.
"We have so many success stories," Coyne said.
He told of one veteran he met in a class in Murfreesboro.
"He kept his head down," Coyne said. "When he came to class, he sat off in the corner. On his first outing, he stayed off to the side. He did not want to talk to people."
By the end of the trip, though, things had changed.
"When we were taking him home, he wanted to know when we were going on another outing," Coyne said.
From those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to double amputation, Coyne has seen transformations occur in participants of the program.
If the service member or veteran has any reservations or any hesitancy about participating, he encourages them.
"I say, `don't tell us you can't -- we'll show you how'," he told the group.
The next meeting of Vietnam Era Veterans will be held April 10 at 6 p.m. at Mike's All-American Diner near Wal-mart. Guest speaker will be US Army veteran Dave Plumley.
To RSVP or to obtain more information about Vietnam Era Veterans contact Tom Taylor at 931-684-2557.