Helping Veterans and Active Duty Military Cope With Social Isolation

Craft care specialist, Kathy Vanasse, prepares craft kits for veterans.

(StatePoint) As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of veterans and active duty military personnel are on lockdown, many suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or substance abuse. With the additional challenge of social isolation, finding ways to combat depression, anxiety and loneliness is critical.

That is why Help Heal Veterans (Heal Vets), a nonprofit founded during the Vietnam War, has gone into overdrive, shipping more than 90,000 free craft kits since the beginning of the pandemic and creating a newly designed kit to help veterans make the masks they need to stay healthy and safe.

Operating on the principle that not all medicine comes in a bottle, Heal Vets distributes kits in craft categories like masks, leatherwork, models, woodwork, jewelry, paint-by-numbers, needlecrafts, poster art, scrapbooks and more. Crafting can provide therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits, including improving fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, memory and dexterity, and can help alleviate feelings of anger and the severity of negative behaviors triggered by PTSD and TBIs.

With demands flooding in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kits have been distributed to more than 90 Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers around the country and a large number of military bases, state veteran homes and other locations where the need is great.

 “The coronavirus is overwhelming, but being alone in a pandemic crisis can be terrifying and deeply debilitating,” says Joe McClain, retired Navy captain and Help Heal Veterans CEO. “Our goal is to give our veterans what they need to heal during this time of enforced isolation.”

In a recent survey of vets, 94 percent of those polled who use Heal Vets craft kits said the kits helped them have a more positive outlook on life, and 98 percent said the kits took their mind off problems.

With many of the nation’s veterans labeled high-risk now in lockdown with little contact from others, (no visitors, no family allowed, no volunteers and limited staff interaction), it is particularly important to address suicide prevention, according to McClain.

“We’re working closely with the VA Suicide Program to start including VA-produced suicide prevention awareness and education material with our kits,” he says. “Our concern is that during this time of increased stress from isolation and financial uncertainty, some veterans may be at higher risk of taking their own life. We are hoping to raise awareness and improve access to craft therapy kits to help mitigate that risk.”

To learn more about Heal Vets and the organization’s COVID-19 efforts, as well as find out how you can help, visit HealVets.org.

Anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges can be exacerbated during this quarantine period. Luckily, there are tangible ways to support isolated and sick veterans in their most significant time of need.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Help Heal Veterans

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