ProjectHealingWaters - VA Northwest Health Network
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VA Northwest Health Network



Image of 2 men fishing in a boat

US Army Veteran Harold Watters relaxing while fly fishing from a drift boat on the Clark Fork River in Montana.

By Bret Bowers, Public Affairs Officer
Thursday, March 5, 2015

Project Healing Waters (PHW) is dedicated to provide therapeutic recreation to Veterans with physical and emotional disabilities. With more than 100 Veterans served in 2014, Project Healing Waters’ Spokane Chapter is a thriving resource for Veterans in our communities.

At Mann-Grandstaff VAMC, the program is offered every Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. in the CLC for male Veterans and in the Physical Therapy clinic for female Veterans. Additionally, PHW is offered at the Veterans Outreach Center in the Spokane Valley and many VA facilities throughout the VA’s Northwest Health Network (VISN 20).

The organization was founded in 2005, serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after they returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program has since expanded nationwide, to include many VA Medical Centers, Department of Defense hospitals and Wounded Warrior transition units.

“Our program is unique in that our volunteers are teaching classes on an on-going, long-term basis,” explained Norm Scott, a retired Navy Captain who brought Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing to Spokane VAMC nearly three years ago. “It is much more than a one day fishing trip. For many participants, particularly disabled veterans, the socialization and camaraderie of the classes are just as important as the fishing outings, and provide them a new and exciting activity.”

“My personal satisfaction,” explained Scott, “is seeing these volunteers help my fellow veteran overcome an adversity. I am fortunate in that my disabilities are such that I can deal with them without the pain and burdensome grip that so often harbors the daily routine of many of our disabled vets. It is rewarding to watch Veterans take pride in the flies they tie or the rod they build and, especially, exciting to watch them catch their first fish on a fly rod. And, It is very rewarding to watch a veteran that may have tremor lose that tremor when they focus on tying or casting,” he said.

Scott has recently brought Fred Timms, (USAF Veteran) onboard to help guide Project Healing Waters in Spokane. “Fred was the ideal candidate based on his expansive fishing knowledge,” said Scott. “He’s bringing new ideas, contacts, and energy that will benefit all Veterans involved in our program.”

Timms will help PHW volunteers like Mike Fortney and Dan Wells (USAF Ret.) who have been building the program for Veterans at the VAMC and the Veterans Outreach Center in the Spokane Valley for the past three years.

“All fly fishing and tying equipment are provided to the participants at no cost,” explained Fortney. “Fishing trips, both one day and sometimes multi-day, are also provided free of charge to Veterans with service-connected disabilities.”

In addition to his weekly fly-tying sessions for male Veterans in the CLC or women Veterans in the Physical Therapy Clinic, Fortney promotes the program at the Veterans Outreach Center in the Spokane Valley and at other events, including the annual American Indian Veterans Advisory Committee’s Memorial and Honoring Ceremony each September at the medical center.

“Some of the things that I have heard from the Veterans is how this program has given them a new outlook on life and something to look forward to each week,” said Fortney. “The main thing I have heard from them is, “When Are We Going Fishing? “ I explain to them that timing is everything and they just look at me amused with a grin on their faces.”

“Project healing waters saved my life,” said Harold Watters (US Army Veteran pictured sitting at right with volunteer Dan Wells’ help in the art of tying flies). “I wouldn’t have met these guys without the VA. They’ve taken me from the Psych Unit to enjoying life again and believing in the power of therapy.”

“What it really did was take my focus off my dark space and put my attention on something I’ve grown to really enjoy. They’ve changed my life for the better. To other Veterans, I say, come on in, sit down with us, try it and then keep coming back. You’ll get hooked,” smiled Watters (pictured below left while fly fishing from a drift boat in Montana).


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