WHEELING, W.Va (WTRF) – A nationwide program focused on helping disabled veterans and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder made its way to the Ohio Valley with a clear mission.  

7News Reporter Annalise Murphy met several local veterans at Oglebay’s Shenk Lake to tell us more about the mission of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHW).  

PHW started in 2005 at a medical center in Maryland specifically for wounded service members returning home for Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Since then, it’s grown into a nationwide, non-profit organization and has expanded to help all veterans – especially those suffering from PTSD.  

Wheeling’s chapter was started back in 2012 and has been making a positive impact in the lives of these local veterans ever since.  

PHW provides a space for veterans to gather together to fly fish and be with people who truly understand.  

They can even learn how to make their own fly rods and bait through the program. 

Russ Schlenker is a Vietnam veteran and the project leader for Wheeling’s local PHW chapter.  

He was unfortunately wounded while serving in Vietnam back in the 1970s and says the program has been lifechanging for him and the other veterans in the program, all who suffer from PTSD.  

“We talk about war time. Sometimes we don’t talk about it because we know each other. We know how we both feel inside. Even if I just meet a new guy, I know how it feels and I’m always there for him. And they know that. I’ll say, ‘Hey, if you got a problem, call me.’ And I’ve helped a couple of other veterans get with a disability and stuff like that. So, we help each other.” 

Russ Schlenker | Project Leader, Wheeling’s Project Healing Waters

Schlenker says for him personally, he is most thankful for the camaraderie the program has brought him, reminding him of the good times he had in the military.  

“Just a camaraderie of being together. And we know our jobs. We know what to do, and we know how to help each other. In the service the same way. We trust each other. And we know that these guys got our backs and no matter what.” 

Russ Schlenker | Project Leader, Wheeling’s Project Healing Waters

Mike Ward from Washington, Pennsylvania is also a Vietnam war veteran and says being in PHW has helped him feel like he is not alone in his struggle with PTSD.  

“I realized that I didn’t go through this. We all went through this.” 

Mike Ward | Vietnam War Veteran

And even though Mike says he is not a good fisherman, he still loves to fly fish with his friends and says they even helped him make his own fly-fishing baits.

Paul McCay is a volunteer with PHW and the president of Local Trout Unlimited, who has a close relationship with the program.  

He shares why he volunteers with the PHW and how he feels it is helpful to our local veterans.  

“They went to Vietnam, and I’m of the age where I could have and I just missed it, luckily. And so, I owe them a big debt of gratitude. With healing waters, the repetitive nature (and motion) of fly casting tends to quiet the mind. It’s almost a Zen like thing. So, you get into this sort of moment where you’re just casting. If people are having a little trouble with thoughts going a little wild in the head, this is something that kind of quiets it and gets you back down to normal.”

Paul McCay | PHW Volunteer & President of Local Trout Unlimited

PHW members also get to travel to different places throughout the state of West Virginia and the nation to meet members who are a part of the program in different locations.  

Veterans do not pay anything for being a part of the program; however, volunteers, supplies and other resources are needed to help keep the program going, especially at the local level.  

If you’re interested in helping a local veteran, please reach out to project leader, Russ Schlenker at russ.schlenker@projecthealingwaters.org.