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The machine shop at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Innovation Studio fills with veterans every Thursday for woodturning workshops which also function as therapy sessions.

Vietnam War veteran Jim Young founded the Veterans in Recovery program that partners with Nebraska Innovation Studio after he moved to Lincoln to be closer to his son. Before moving to Lincoln, he had volunteered for Turn Around for Veterans in San Diego, which is similar to Veterans in Recovery.

Young said woodturning is a simple task that requires concentration. He said when veterans focus on woodturning, it distracts them from the negative thoughts they may be struggling with.

“They can come here and be successful at starting and finishing something,” he said in a Nebraska Today article. “And be proud that they did it.”

Young donated three lathes — rotating woodshop machines used to shape wood, metal and other materials — and worked with Innovation Studio shop manager Jerry Reif and director David Martin to maintain funding for the program. Another Lincoln woodturner also donated a fourth lathe to start the program.

An anonymous donor has paid membership fees for the Veterans in Recovery to work at Innovation Studio every week for nearly a year. The Veterans Administration in Lincoln and the NL’s Military and Veteran Success Center refer veterans to the program. “Once they do the training with me, they can come in on their own time, too, and do whatever they like,” Young said. “That’s a huge advantage of having a place like Innovation Studio.”

Young said he’d like to see similar programs across the United States, but it’s hard to get them going without scientific data showing the impact.

Peer support specialist for the Lincoln Veterans Administration Marlene Sorenson said she’s seen the veterans she serves benefit from the program.

She said the vets who participate range widely in their therapeutic needs, spanning from severe post-traumatic stress disorder to dealing with loneliness. The program is designed to complement each treatment plan.

“Our whole motivation is to get veterans into action, into the community. They come and learn, and then become teachers,” Sorenson said. “They find a home here they look forward to coming to and creating something."

Jihan Najjar, a doctoral student in UNL’s counseling psychology program, said he hopes to help provide data that shows the program’s impact through research and is leading a pilot study of the Nebraska program's therapeutic benefits.

“I have seen firsthand how this program positively impacts veterans’ mental health, social relationships and physical health,” Najjar, who also serves as therapist at the Lincoln VA hospital, said. “I am exploring how participating in projects at Innovation Studio impacts veterans' well-being, as well as identifying the efficacy of alternative treatment methods for veterans.”

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