Las Cruces fly fishing group helps heal veterans with PTSD

Pennsylvania is renowned for its fly fishing and trout.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A Veterans Administration clinic in Las Cruces is helping disabled military veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder through a program that uses the therapeutic benefits of fly fishing.

Project Healing Waters is free for disabled veterans like Ray Kirby, who is haunted by experiences he went through during his service, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

The local group has about 10 veterans who participate regularly and gets one or two new members each year.

Kirby’s life was on a downhill spiral after he returned from a tour in Iraq where he saw “mankind at its absolute worst.”

He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006.

He’s gone through two failed marriages and was kicked out of his mother’s Las Cruces home after a few months of living there.

“I was angry at the military,” he said. “I was angry at myself. I was angry at the world. I drank and drank. I was in denial.”

The Army veteran happened to see a brochure on the program in 2012 at the Las Cruces VA clinic.

He was connected to fellow veteran Ron Bellerose who leads the program and taught Kirby the basics of fly fishing.

Project Healing Waters provides members with rods, reels, flies and supplies for making them and covers travel and all related costs for overnight fishing trips.

The program takes members on two to three trips per year. Most excursions are overnight trips because of the lack of fishable streams in southern New Mexico.

Kirby remembers one November day when he joined the group for a fly fishing trip to Rio Penasco in southern New Mexico.

He didn’t catch any trout that day, but he loved it nonetheless.

“It felt so good – listening to the wind, hearing the birds chirping,” he said. “It was a cold, rainy day, but I will never forget it.”

Kirby still struggles with mental health issues and is trying hard to stay away from alcohol for good, but he said fly fishing has helped him cope and he is in better shape today because of it.

“Compared to where I was, (I’m) a billion times better,” he said. “I don’t have nightmares as often. I’m still working on managing my emotions.”

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