A Fishing Experience for Disabled Vets

Veterans Wheelchair Accessible Boat

Earlier this year, Mike Boller, a MITRE lead systems engineer, volunteered for the first-ever Veterans Wheelchair Accessible Boat Fishing Event in West Palm Beach, Florida. Twenty-two disabled veterans from the local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center were treated to a one-of-kind fishing experience. It all happened thanks to a collaboration between the "Fisheries for Veterans" project and boat captain Rich Brochu.

The F4V project offers fishing as recreation to help local communities promote the rehabilitation and resocialization of wounded veterans. Brochu custom-built his boat, the Thea Marie, as a vessel for the disabled to enjoy time on the water and fish safely.

Boller was lead coordinator. With assistance from three other volunteers, he organized and managed event support such as providing lunches, locations, seating, setup, and security.

"I have been volunteering with F4V for over five years," Boller says. "What's particularly noteworthy this year is that it was the first time we could offer this experience to visually impaired veterans, thanks to a custom-built boat.

"Lots of folks from the community contributed to making this project a success. The support we received from the Bureau of Land Management [BLM], specifically from Jupiter Inlet, was over the top."

A Boatload of Companionship, on and off the Water

Following a morning of fishing, the group celebrated over lunch, donated by Publix Supermarket at the Riviera Beach Marina. The veterans shared stories, enjoyed camaraderie, and, of course, great fishing. They caught (and released) plenty of fish, though some catches were put on ice for the participants to take home.

A combination of support from local organizations, public lands, and fishing resources brought the trip to fruition. The F4V project is a service partnership that brings together the Department of Defense, the VA, and the BLM.

The initiative uses public lands and aquatic resources to encourage social interaction, mentoring, and networking that emphasizes health and life cycle management for veterans. It serves as a unique community-driver connecting veterans (and their families), local communities, government programs, and non-profit organizations. This event was organized by the BLM and Fishing Community, a non-profit organization.