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Wounded veterans: Healing deep scars with fly-fishing

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Safari Club International (SCI) clearly understands the necessary, but often injurious, consequences of any American military conflict. They see the toll that war extracts from the human spirit, and they experience the difficulties that our brave veterans face when returning to civilian life. SCI has an intimate understanding of our veterans because they are working “hands-on” to improve the situation.

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Unfortunately, the reality that veterans face is much, much bleaker than many Americans are led to believe. Traditional therapies do not always work. In addition, many Wounded Warriors become so isolated that they are far beyond the reach of the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA’s) help.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs “Suicide Prevention Program;

• There are over 18-deaths from suicide per day within the veteran population.

• Five suicide related deaths occur per day among veterans receiving care by the [VHA].

• Nearly 1,000 suicide attempts occur per month within the veteran population receiving care at VHA.

• Thirty three percent of recently studied veterans, [one third of those who serve], have a history of previous suicide attempts.

SCI dedicates a considerable amount of time, effort and money to support America’s Wounded Warriors. The work is meant to help improve their quality of life, and often, the experience provided by SCI heals deep wounds that are otherwise resistant to traditional therapies.

On June 14, 2014, a fly-fishing outing at Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club served as a great example of SCI funding in action.

For nearly 100-years, Lincoln Hills has been a destination for exploration, relaxation and most of all…”social and emotional healing.” The secluded area, located just outside of Blackhawk, Colo., was transformed in the early 1920s when two African-American developers formed the Lincoln Hills Development Company (LHDC).

Their goal? LHDC hoped to build the only resort, west of the Mississippi, that catered specifically to African American guests…and LHDC succeeded beautifully. The resort gained immediate fame. Lincoln Hills also became the only resort in the nation that was envisioned, built and staffed exclusively by African-Americans.

In 1927, Lincoln Hills saw another great development with the establishment of Camp Nizhoni.

According to www.LincolnHills.com;

Camp Nizhoni provided a vital, nurturing and ultimately, uplifting experience to hundreds of African-American women and girls over the, approximately, 20 years that it was in existence. The integration of the YMCA's Camp Lookout [at Lookout Mountain] in 1945 closed the formal chapter on the history of Camp Nizhoni, but its impact remains to this day.

Though time has changed the human footprint in the area, somehow, the spirit of the land remains the same; Lincoln Hills continues to provide vital, nurturing and ultimately uplifting experiences to another large, and very important, segment of the American population.

The suicide statistics discussed earlier are appalling, one-in-three veterans interviewed by the VHA has a history of suicide attempts, but SCI and Lincoln Hills Cares (LHC) understand the powerful healing properties hidden below the surface of the club’s rivers, streams and ponds. The nonprofits are using that power to heal Wounded Warriors, and the results are tangible.

Each year, LHC hosts multiple outings for injured veterans. On, June 14, 2014, 10-Wounded Warriors were provided with fishing gear and a personal fishing guide; then, the brave men were unleashed on the pristine waters of the private fishing club.

The “Anglers of Honor,” as LHC refers to their outreach program, had an amazing fly-fishing experience. Some of the anglers snagged as many as a dozen large trout in the private “catch and release” waters; the smiles on the Wounded Warriors faces reflected the world-class fly-fishing, tranquility and healing found at Lincoln Hills.

Shortly after noon, the group gathered at the clubhouse. The positive energy, excitement and camaraderie in the air was intoxicating. Suddenly, a large amount of food appeared on two long tables behind the Wounded Warriors. The fare was exquisite.

Bob Adwar, the outreach coordinator with the nonprofit Freedom Hunters, dished up a perfectly cooked gumbo to each Angler of Honor. Adwar has been an instrumental figure in the fight to protect and honor our veterans and severely injured trauma patients for nearly two-decades.

Freedom Hunters is funded by SCI and multiple other private and public sources. For nearly two-decades, Adwar has also worked closely with Craig hospital to offer severe trauma patients an opportunity to experience the outdoors in a private and supportive environment.

True to form, Adwar ensured that every lunch guest at the Lincoln Hills event was served before serving himself, and only then he took a moment to rest.

The finishing touch was a decadent peach cobbler topped with an airy, flaky and perfectly executed crust. The desert was not packed with sugar; instead, the cobbler was infused with the sweetness of perfectly cooked peaches, and the dish was truly an exclamation point on the master-chef’s amazing creation.

After lunch, the Executive Director of LHC, Ethan Emery, spoke to the group of Wounded Warriors. As an outsider, it was clear that LHC appreciated the experience just as much as the Wounded Warriors. The smiles were contagious, the energy in the air was infectious, and for a brief moment, all in attendance were…family.

Following Emery’s heartfelt, “Thank you,” Josh Lambert, a veteran that had an amazing day on the river, reminded the group that so many beautiful souls never made it home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Lambert honored the fallen and lamented the fact that they will never have an opportunity to participate amazing programs like the Anglers of Honor. A moment of silence was observed, and the entire experience was deeply moving.

Studying the group, as an outsider, it is difficult to understand the true magnitude of these types of programs, but it was easy to see that the effort by SCI and LHC helped each participant in a very personal, meaningful and permanent manner.

In a recent interview, Adwar, who has worked with Wounded Warriors and severe trauma patients at the world-renowned Craig Hospital for several decades, explained what he experiences on nearly every outing;

Many of these men, women and children are in a really bad place when they first come to us. They want nothing to do with anyone. They are; angry and frustrated, hurting physically, suffering emotionally, losing the battle against hopelessness, over-medicated, and they are very, very short on hope.

Our brave Wounded Warriors and severely traumatized friends and neighbors deserve much better.

In addition to the ramifications from severe trauma, Wounded Warriors and severe trauma patients often find themselves unemployable and insecure about their ability to contribute to, or support, their home and family. Some have all but given-up by the time we have an opportunity to help.

But…when you get them in a duck blind with a shotgun, or in the middle of a river with fishing pole…the transformation is nearly instantaneous. They begin to loosen up, the “hurt” etched into the wrinkles on their face dissipates, and finally…they begin to let you in.

Every time a Wounded Warrior or severely traumatized patient’s guard drops and they crack a smile…I understand why I am doing this, and I remember why this work is so important.

LHC finished the experience by presenting the Wounded Warriors with nearly $2,500 worth of fly fishing gear. The veterans were all smiles. With each fly-fishing rod that was handed-out, LHC provided continuing “therapy” for one of the participants, and Emery also distributed coupons that granted the Wounded Warriors unlimited access to an immense amount of online angling curriculum provided by Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club and the Angling University.

SCI helped sponsor the fly-fishing event, LHC hosted the veterans, but several other veteran-focused groups also attended. Freedom Hunters, Operation TBI Freedom and Project Wounded Ego were all present. Each nonprofit serves a different purpose, but they all have the same goal.

In addition, the groups are all underfunded, understaffed and they need your help.

Who can help? Financial donations are always appreciated, but there are many other ways to help. Outfitters and landowners can donate hunting trips. Retailers have the opportunity to donate much needed fishing and hunting equipment. Those who cannot afford a financial donation can volunteer their time. There is always another task to complete, hurdle to jump and another veteran in need. The work never ends, and it is good work…

More About Safari Club International Denver Chapter

Safari Club International is the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide.

To learn more, visit:http://denversci.org/about-sci/ or call 1-888-SCI-HUNT

More About Lincoln Hills Cares

Lincoln Hills seeks to share unforgettable mountain experiences with the past, present and future Lincoln Hills generations through education, conservation, and preservation.

To learn more, visit: http://www.lincolnhills.com or call 720-431-8889.

More About the Anglers of Honor Program

To make available the mind, body, and flow of nature through the process of angling. Anglers of Honor is dedicated to sharing the River Deep fly fishing experience with military service personnel and their families.

To learn more, visit: http://www.lincolnhills.com/anglers-of-honor/ or call 720-431-8889

More About Freedom Hunters

Freedom Hunters is a Military Outreach program dedicated to honoring those who protect our Freedoms. Our mission is to salute the noble work of our courageous men and women of our Armed Forces. Freedom Hunters reflects the outdoor community's appreciation to our troops by taking: select active duty and combat veterans, families of fallen heroes, children of the deployed, as well as those wounded or injured, on outdoor adventures. Freedom Hunters mission is empowered by the generous support of many: sportsmen, conservation groups, state agencies, outfitters, corporations, and land owners.

To learn more, visit: www.FreedomHunters.org or call 303-881-0400.

More about Project Wounded Ego

Project Wounded Ego is a Psychological Photography Service for Wounded Warriors and the organizations that support them.

To learn more visit:www.projectwoundedego.org or call 210-667-6594

More About Rocky Mountain Human Services & Operation TBI Freedom

Operation TBI Freedom (OTF) is privately funded program of RMHS, assisting veterans and active duty military personnel with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that occurred on, or after, September 11, 2001. In Colorado alone, more than 7,200 veterans will return from conflict with a TBI. Traumatic brain injury is a serious, yet invisible injury. For those with TBI, the transition to civilian life can be especially difficult. Our program tailors a unique plan for each client that promotes optimum independence, productivity and successful reintegration into civilian life.

To learn more, visit: http://www.rmhumanservices.org/program/operation-tbi-freedom or call 855-355-6824.

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