‘Project Healing Waters’ helps struggling veterans through fly fishing

Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 12:14 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - According to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, an average 22 veterans die by suicide each day. The wounds of war can be too much for many of the men and women returning home.

A group in Beckley is working to give struggling veterans a lifeline through fly fishing. They are part of a group called ‘Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing,’ a national organization with chapters located across the country.

Mike Davis, who runs the Raleigh County group, served in the U.S. Air Force and was part of the mission that helped free American hostages from Iran in 1980. But when he returned home, he said he found it difficult, suffering from bouts of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“We’re out here drinking coffee, eating donuts, and telling lies,” he joked. “It’s a non judgmental environment. We’re all suffering the same stuff. We’ve been down the same road.”

Steve Kemper, another wounded veteran, suffered a number of injuries to his body and back while serving in the U.S. Army and in Iraq. Now paralyzed, he works to help others through the same struggles.

“For many veterans, you don’t want to admit that you have a problem sometimes. It seems easier to hide that sometimes than to seek help.”

The group meets at the Maxwell Hill Community Center in Beckley to learn and practice for their trips on the water.

While the water doesn’t wash away all their troubles, Kemper said it is a start. “You get immersed in what’s going on out there on the water and you forget about the other stuff. Even if it’s just for a day. You can forget about all your troubles and things that are on your mind.”

Davis said the group is open to new members. Healing Waters will meet next on September 15, at 5 p.m., at the Maxwell Hill Community Center. While the non-profit covers all the costs for veterans, Davis said the organization is currently looking for swift boat sponsors for their trips out on the water.