Nature can provide solace and healing to those who've undergone traumatic experiences. The Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA), one of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States, has been applying this principle to returning war veterans with its annual Wounded Warrior Day.
At one Maryland Chapter of IWLA, veterans from an area rehabilitation facility were invited to the chapter house to spend a relaxing day doing activities like archery, trout fishing, and horseshoes. There were even guitars available around the facility. The Chapter also provided breakfast, snacks and a full lunch.
The 30 veterans who served in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan range in ages and war experience, but have one thing in common: all are receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of these veterans were children whom Steve Wachter, the events coordinator, watched grow into adults and enlist.
“You see these kids go off and come back different men. Their mother kept their room in the order that they left it in, but when they come back, it's not the same. It’s hard for the parents and loved ones to know that these kids were just being shot at days earlier,” says Steve.
As a Vietnam veteran, Steve has struggled with this disorder himself. He knew he had to do something to help others, so he contacted several hospitals that work with veterans. Only one took him up on his offer to bring residents over to the Chapter for a day of rest and fellowship.
At the rehabilitation facility, the soldiers' days are very regimented and structured. In order to offer a respite from this environment, the Chapter provides a full day of unstructured, relaxed and come-as-you-are fun.
Before they leave, the IWLA Chapter sends them home with t-shirts, comfortable folding chairs and a care package. Area businesses and community members pitch in to help IWLA provide all the food and supplies, which are free to the veterans.
At the entrance to Chapter house sits a guest book. Many of the soldiers who participated in Wounded Warrior Day took a moment to write their names, ranks, and sentiments. The overwhelming sentiment of many of these messages is “thank you for understanding.” In the tenuous road to recovery, this simple day of rest and peace provided by IWLA gives veterans a welcome gift.