Working on Arts & Crafts Helps This Veteran Cope with Grief

Jul 17, 2013, 12:15 ET from Help Hospitalized Veterans

WINCHESTER, Calif., July 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- John Smelser volunteered to serve his country in the U.S. Air Force from 1969-1972, exiting without injury or disability.  Following his military service, Smelser earned a bachelors of science in landscape architecture, and owned a successful business in Oklahoma.


But when things seem to be going well in life, one event can occur that throws it all into turmoil.  For Smelser it was the passing of his father in 1978.  Not knowing what to do with his grief, he started drinking. "It was just a bit at first, but it got worse.  It was a surprise to me that I had this problem as I never drank before, but I knew I needed help," he said. Initially, he sought treatment at a local hospital. After three years of alcoholics anonymous he sought help at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center.

"It was one of the best decisions I ever made," Smelser said.  While in a VA domiciliary program, someone from Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV) came in with some arts and crafts.

"The man asked me if I wanted one and I said no thanks.  He then asked me 'What else do you have to do?' and I answered nothing.  So I took the kit," Smelser said.

"Working on the kit helped in surprising ways.  Following the directions helped me develop more focus.  It helped me learn to curb impulsivity and it certainly helped me overcome my cravings by teaching self-control.  Working on the kit made me feel mindful of what I was doing and to control my natural desire to jump ahead too fast.  I have completed over a dozen kits since first being introduced to them and they have helped me in myriad ways," said Smelser.  "Working on a kit is relaxing.  It helps me develop skills I now use in my relationships with other people.  When I am working on a kit the Zen-like concentration involved teaches mindfulness.  But perhaps best of all it's just plain fun."

He recently entered one of his model kits in the Oklahoma VA Creative Arts Festival, and placed second in the state in his category.  John is spending a lot more time at home these days due to severe orthopedic issues in his back and hips, so he was thrilled to learn of HHV's new Patient Home Rehabilitation Program which provides arts & crafts directly to veterans at home.

"I'm really looking forward to getting my next kit from this new, vital recreation therapy program," Smelser said.

HHV has been the largest provider of free therapeutic arts & crafts kits to military and veteran patients worldwide, having donated over 28 million kits since its inception in 1971.

Frank Cimorelli

SOURCE Help Hospitalized Veterans