WHEELING - On a sunny day at Washington Farms tucked away on GC&P Road, veterans outfitted with fisherman vests stood serenely around a small pond with their fishing lines.
For Vietnam veteran Barney Kubisiak Jr., being in the fresh air while waiting for a fish to nibble on the line is enough to make him forget about almost anything else.
The veterans are part of Project Healing Waters in Wheeling, a program that teaches disabled war veterans the art of fly fishing as a form of therapy.
HEALING?WATERS — Veteran Tom Moore fishes at Washington Farms on GC&P Road during an outing with Project Healing Waters. -- Sarah Harmon
Started locally in 2012 through the Wheeling Vet Center, Project Healing Waters has provided veterans in the Tri-State Area with service-related disabilities the chance to heal from both the mental and physical wounds of war.
"When you're out there fishing, you forget about a lot of things: The aches, the pains, the medicines," Kubisiak, program leader for the program, said. "When you start tying, you're just concentrating. You get exercise, fresh air and just the process of learning something new helps to heal."
About two times a week, the nine veterans in the program go out to a local creek or stream to learn how to tie a fly, maybe catch a fish, build friendships with other veterans and to be surrounded by nature.
According to Kubisiak, learning to fly fish can address a number of disabilities war veterans may have. For example, a veteran with nerve damage in his arm from an explosion can regain some dexterity by tying a fly or veterans with brain damage from war can learn concentration by focusing on the task of fishing.
In addition, just being with other veterans with similar experiences can be greatly beneficial. Kubisiak, who has battled with hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder himself after serving in the Vietnam War, said the camaraderie has helped with his own healing process.
"It's not so much about catching fish," Kubisiak said. "It's being with veterans with the same thing in common. We don't tell war stories, we just talk about each other's lives, our families."
Project Healing Waters in a national project with 165 programs in 49 states with seven programs in West Virginia. The program comes at no cost to veterans and is funded solely through grants and donations. Veterans have complete access to all the supplies they need and many owners of private ponds and streams in the area will welcome the vets to fish on their properties.
Kubisiak added that no disabled veteran is turned down no matter how severe the disability. Even those who are not able to fish might join just to be by the water and talk with other veterans, Kubisiak said.
Although the veterans in the group are mostly from the Vietnam War, Kubisiak said he hopes the program will grow in the future to include veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
"My goal is to get my vets on the stream as much as we can," Kubisiak said.