This post first appeared on the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System website.
Barracuda, mackerel and calico bass are a sampling of the fish Veterans from the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System caught during a deep sea fishing trip. Fishing, for this special group of Veterans, is not always about catching the big one. The sport can have a lasting impact on their mental health and physical well-being.
Los Angeles angler Larry M. Brown, saw an opportunity to share his passion for fishing with local wounded Veterans. Two years ago, he corralled non-profit fishing organizations Marina Del Rey Anglers and Los Angeles Rod and Reel Club, to team up with the VA’s physical medicine and rehabilitation staff on a Veteran fishing program.
“I suggested taking Veterans on fishing trips,” said Brown. “I am partnering with these great organizations and their generous members to organize and conduct these trips.”
According to VA recreational therapist Louisa Mendelsohn, fishing is a therapy sport. Putting bait on a hook, learning to adjust tangled fishing lines and balancing on a rocking boat helps Veterans with fine motor control. Fishing also teaches Veterans new coping skills that can replace unhealthy options like alcohol and drugs.
For Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, fishing emboldens them to step out of that bad experience so they can concentrate on the moment.
“Wind, temperature, how long their line has been in the water and if they have a fish; keeps them focused,” said Mendelsohn.
Veterans also profit from fishing’s communal benefits.
“When we’re moving, we’re not fishing, so we’re socializing, talking, making connections with other people,” said Mendelsohn. “Depending on what program, especially rehabilitation, you meet people going through similar things so you can help find support. There is a sense of comradery.”
“I remember one Vet telling me this was one of the nicest things that has happened in his life since he got back from active duty in Iraq,” said fisherman Phil Bell, coordinator of the Veteran fishing program for Marina Del Rey Anglers. “It is a blessing and a privilege for me to honor our Veterans.”
Licenses, live bait, tackle, rod and reel, as well as breakfast, lunch and water are provided to Veteran patients free of charge thanks to the Veteran fishing program donors. Planning begins in March with trips scheduled for June, July and Sept. Passengers leave on the Betty-O out of Marina Del Rey Sportfishing and fish from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The outing is exclusive to Veterans, boat crew, volunteers and healthcare staff. The only items Veterans need to bring are themselves, hats, meds and sunscreen.
“I hope these trips help our Veterans progress with their recreational therapy and social development skills and move them closer to full integration into productive society,” said Brown.
“It warms my heart when I hear that one of my Veterans was able to go on vacation with their family instead of being shut up in their room isolating themselves. They were able to put the tools in place and just get out there and be able to reintegrate,” said Mendelsohn.
Michiko Riley is a public affairs specialist at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. She is also an Air Force reservist serving in Public Affairs for U.S. Forces Japan.