Healing Veterans and Helping the Environment Go Hand-in-Hand
What does Earth Day have to do with veterans suffering from psychological trauma brought about by their combat experience? A lot, actually.
That is because one organization, Help Heal Veterans (Heal Vets), is busy delivering thousands of arts-and-crafts therapy kits to veterans each month, and most kits are made largely from recycled materials. The kits provide an important therapeutic benefit for veterans and active-duty military recovering from wounds, injuries and the long-term psychological effects of warfare, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Heal Vets kits include leatherwork, models, woodwork, jewelry, painting, needlecrafts, poster art, scrapbooks and more, and are created from materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfills.
Heal Vets has been doing this work for 50 years, and commitment to environmental sustainability has become an important and growing part of its mission.
“Over the last five years, we have recycled almost one million pounds of materials,” says Joe McClain, retired Navy captain and CEO of Heal Vets. “By upcycling, we responsibly utilize numerous materials, mostly textiles, one of the biggest contributors to landfill waste in the US.”
Indeed, since 2017, Heal Vets has worked with partner organizations to repurpose the extraordinary amounts of potential landfill waste, including:
• 300,000 pounds of leather from airplane seats. Southwest Airlines and Arise Foundation have donated leather from airplane seats since 2018. These materials are used to make wallets, footballs, and components for moccasins, such as liners and insoles.
• 55,216 pounds of tanned deer skins. The Elks, a partner since 2002, donates tanned deer skins from Elks Lodge members around the country that are used to make moccasins, wheelchair gloves, dreamcatchers, pouches and more.
• 454,500 pounds of upholstery. Since 2017, La Z Boy has donated upholstery fabric that Heal Vets uses in kits to make messenger bags, oven mitts, bowl cozies and more.
• 112,416 pounds of cabinets. Since 2019, American Woodmark has donated cabinets, which have been repurposed for wood kits to make items like boxes and birdhouses.
• 40,000 pounds of automobile seats. Since 2019, Magna has donated auto seats used to make purse kits.
Heal Vets is seeking new partners for its dual mission of helping veterans heal and contributing to a sustainable economy. Businesses can donate materials that reduce their environmental impact and support the recovery of veterans who have served their country and need to recover fully from the visible and invisible wounds of war. To learn more about the power of craft therapy and the sustainability efforts of Heal Vets, visit healvets.org.
“Earth Day has taken on a new meaning for us because it relates directly to our mission,” says McClain. “To us, sustainability means ensuring both the long-term existence of our natural resources and the well-being of the veterans we serve.”