Tom Kimmet, left, and Eric Ramos build their fishing kits Oct. 10 at the Military Veteran Services Center at Bellevue University.

A connection with the outdoors and fishing was the impetus of a nationwide program designed to heal and rehabilitate veterans.

Project Healing Waters was started in 2005 to teach wounded and veterans with disabilities to cast and fish as part of a rehabilitation process.

The project started with six veterans and has expanded to more than 8,000 nationwide with more than 200 programs.

Two surgeons at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., saw an opportunity to get veterans outside, said Charles Baswell, the program leader for the Omaha Chapter of Project Healing Waters.

“When they were teaching the veterans how to cast, they realized that they were focusing so much on the casting and the water that their disabilities seemed to dissipate,” he said.

The free program has veterans build rods and tie flies, as well as take them out to fish and enjoy the water.

Baswell hosts the program once a month at Bellevue University’s Military Veteran Services Center, which has been ongoing for two years.

Baswell said the program is important to teach veterans with disabilities how to integrate positivity into their lives.

“The simple fact of being able to do something positive in their lives with so many negatives happening to them, this is the difference,” he said. “It’s where the healing really starts.”

There are about 100 veterans in the Project Healing Waters programs in Nebraska.

Along with recreational fishing, the program also has three tournaments in the Omaha area.

Baswell, a Vietnam War veteran, said the project has helped to heal and motivate veterans.

“They thought we could never do anything,” he said. “Well, this is something we can do, and something that touches not only their hearts, but our hearts, too.”

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