Legionnaire using woodworking to heal from PTSD and help other veterans do the same

Legionnaire using woodworking to heal from PTSD and help other veterans do the same

Department of Washington Legionnaire Steven McCullough learned woodworking from his grandfather while growing up in Maine in the 1970s. Decades later, he’s using that skill to help other deal with the transition from the military to the civilian world – especially those dealing with invisible wounds.

A member of American Legion Post 164 in Yelm, McCullough is teaching veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder the skill of woodworking. Whether it’s pieces of furniture, plaques or other items, McCullough is using his garage to pass on his skills while aiding in the healing process.

“Being in the shop and showing people what I’m building myself and learning new ways to build, it just relaxes me inside and unwinds my head,” said McCullough, who spent 15 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. “When I go into my shop, it’s not so much to build a project in one day. As I’m learning new skills … if I can learn it and be able to pass it on the younger generation, so they can learn it, that way they may get some relief from the pressures of the day.”

McCullough realized teaching woodworking to others could be a form of therapy when he was tasked by Post 164 to build a bench on the post’s property. “They had a log, and they wanted a bench,” he said. “I said, ‘Bring it down and I’ll build it.’”

That’s when it hit him that woodworking could help relax others as well. But he hasn’t limited his teaching to just veterans.

“It’s also for the families. For a lot of families when (a servicemember) comes home, it’s not only the soldier affected. It’s everybody in that family,” McCullough said. “Say a husband (deployed) with a kid … and when he comes home, he doesn’t know how to connect. When they come together, I try to help them connect working with the wood, and not the stress of actual parenting. You’re in there together. You’re in there having a good time together.

“And it can be for the moms, for all the stress they went through when the husband was deployed, or vice versa. They can come together and relax. It helps the soldier come home to a more peaceful dwelling.”

Woodworking has helped McCullough heal. But so has being a member of Post 164 and the feeling it gives him know he’s got comrades.

“It gave me a different perspective,” he said. “In the military, you did not see the family dynamics. You didn’t see how mom was stressed or the husband was stressed in a military family. Because we stress differently than civilians.

“To be able to go (into the post) and have a brother want to come talk to you, and to find out what’s going on with him because he’s having a bad day or something, it really helps me. I understand a little bit about what he’s gone through. I can’t understand everything he’s gone through because I’m not him. But I can be a listening ear and be able to say, ‘Alright, this is what I would do,’ to try to help him.”