Operation VetBuild

November 6, 2019 by Stephen J. Thorne

Whether it’s cars, armoured vehicles, ships or aircraft, model-building is one of the joys of childhood—a mindful project with a rewarding outcome. It can be educational, absorbing and relaxing. But, most of all, it’s satisfying.

Now, The Royal Canadian Legion is betting those benefits will carry over to veterans struggling with operational stress injury by introducing a new program called Operation VetBuild.

“Building a scale model requires focus which allows one to become absorbed in a project and thereby placing all of one’s attention to it,” says Craig Hood, the program leader. “It pushes away the bad day or week you may have had and replaces it with accomplishment.”

Introduced in April in Ajax, Ont., the program is the first of its kind in Canada. It follows similar successful initiatives in Great Britain and the United States.

The program uses scale-model building kits in a supportive atmosphere. Working in a stress-free setting alongside other veterans, it is a chance to learn new skills and relax.

Jason Salo, a retired reservist and military policeman, says Operation VetBuild has given him a chance to meet other veterans with similar backgrounds.

“I was missing the camaraderie of getting together and chatting,” says Salo, who attends VetBuild sessions with his 11-year-old son Cohen. “It is interesting to sit around the table with different generations of veterans and hear the same sorts of stories from everybody.”

The sessions offer the father and son a chance to participate in a fun activity together, meet other veterans and learn about the challenges they face.

“I look forward to seeing the incredible handiwork, the camaraderie and the peer support that will come from Operation VetBuild,” said Legion Dominion President Tom Irvine.

The idea came from the Legion’s Operational Stress Injury Special Section, of which Hood is chair. He said scale-model building is more than a simple matter of assembly. There is research to be done.

“It starts with collecting images from the internet and books that will help visualize the finished product,” said Hood. “Maybe an event that the vehicle was used in sparks your interest further. From there, you follow the instructions to assemble the kit, being ever mindful of what the finished piece will look like.

“You become immersed into the details. Then the painting begins. You can decide to have it look fresh off the assembly line, weathered and battered or any variation in between. You can make it historically accurate or paint the colours of the rainbow on it. It’s all up to you.”

The process, he says, exercises the brain.

“It helps us manage stress and combat anxiety and depression. But hobbies in general are good for everyone, injured or not. Making the time for hobbies enriches our lives and empowers us to think and live more freely.”

Scale-model building is not new to many veterans, who have already appreciated its benefits. Hood says the program will expand to cater to a wider variety of interests to not only support veterans, but their families as well.

“It’s a successful model that allows serving members and veterans in the U.K. to have an avenue to take their minds off other issues,” British modeller Clive Osbaldston, who has assisted with a Models for Troops program in the U.K., wrote on the Op VetBuild Facebook page.

“It can assist with recovery after brain and other neurological surgeries. It’s also a fantastic way of meeting people and learning a new…hobby.”

Sessions are already planned in Legion branches around the country.

The Royal Canadian Legion Operational Stress Injury Special Section is a national, member-driven initiative that provides outreach, peer support and referral services for veterans and their families affected by operational stress injuries, including anxiety, depression, addictions, PTSD or other mental-health challenges.

To learn more about this initiative, visit www.facebook.com/opvetbuild.

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