VA stand-down

Caterina King had finished up an appointment Wednesday with a rheumatologist at the VA when she stopped by the Suicide Prevention Stand-Down, where she made a hope box.

Fishing, gardening and kung fu were just a few of the activities presented for stress reduction and positive influences that can be pursued by veterans who need some assistance is occupying their thoughts and time with constructive activities.

Veterans had a host of activities to choose from Wednesday morning at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center, which was holding a suicide prevention stand-down at which a number of area organizations attended to inform about activities that were interesting and useful.

“We feel like if they are engaged in the community they are less likely to hurt themselves,” said Lisa Fowler, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System suicide prevention coordinator.

There were tables set up at which veterans could make hope boxes.

The purpose of the hope box is for the veteran to place items that inspire, or offer happy memories in the box. When the individual is sad or depressed they can look at items in the box that make them smile or provide a calming influence, Fowler said.

“It’s like a prayer box,” veteran Caterina King said. “You can put prayers in it, items that illustrate your thoughts. Making it is very stress relieving for me.”

King served in the Army from 1998 until 2013 and was deployed to Iraq.

King selected some colorful paper to cover the lid of her hope box. “I like bright colors,” she said.

The idea came from the Virtual Hope Box, which is one of a number of free coping and symptom management apps available through iPhone and Android phones.

“You can download pictures and poems to the virtual box and we decided to offer real hope boxes where you place things that are important to you,” Fowler said. “Ideally, if a veteran is feeling down or blue they can go to their hope box. You can put anything you want in your box, but we try to keep it positive.”

Some of the veterans aren’t very craft oriented and some boxes were made in advance for them.

A number of the groups — the Red Cross, VA Volunteer Services and others — set up booths to look for volunteers, another way for veterans to spend their time and feel productive. There were groups that teach fitness through martial arts as well as yoga.

Representatives from Team RWB, Red White and Blue, were there to talk to prospective members.

The group’s mission is to enrich the lives of the veterans by connecting them with to the community through physical and social activity, Sonia Rivera said.

Morning and afternoon walks are scheduled and the group is a regular participant in community activities.

Project Healings Waters Fly Fishing had representatives at the event. This organization is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.

Master Gardener Debbi Harris is new to the area and was volunteering Wednesday at the Bell County Master Gardener table.

“I’m helping to man the table and answer questions,” Harris said.

Gardening is a great stress reliever, she said.

“I’m moving from another county, and trying to sell one home and buy another is difficult,” Harris said.

Gardening is a place where she can sort out her thoughts, Harris said. It’s a therapeutic tool.

“You have to find what works for you when it comes to relieving stress,” she said. “Gardening uses energy in a positive way.”

During the event, master gardeners were holding classes and had just finished one on growing Meyer lemons.

A group from the Mother Neff Park Association was sharing information on nearby state parks, particularly, Mother Neff, Whitney and Meridian.

Veterans and the disabled get a discount on state park entrance fees, Richard Spindle, a member of the Mother Neff Park Association, said.

The group offered a pelt test, during which individuals tried to guess which animals were represented by rubbing the different pelts. The skunk was easy. Coyotes, rabbit and possum were part of the pelt guessing game.

Heidi Derning, a therapeutic recreation specialist and veterans program specialist, brought a horse from her program in Georgetown.

Rock Ride offers equine assisted therapies and holds a Tuesday night veterans program.

“We have been working with veterans since 2005,” Derning said. “The person in charge of the First Cavalry horse detachment contacted us and asked that we put soldiers with amputations on horses.”

That was the pilot program and it went very well, and the program has been working with veterans ever since, she said.

Some of the veterans volunteer, working with children and other veterans.

“They help with feeding the horses,” Derning said. “You know veterans are such giving-oriented people.”