Blind veterans find comfort in woodworking

Posted at 6:20 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 19:55:21-04

For veterans who lose their vision in Central Texas, there's a facility at the Waco VA that helps them adjust to a new way of life.

It's the Blind Rehab Center at the Waco VA. The program helped patients learn how to do normal day-to-day things, but also allows them to get back to doing things they are passionate about or used to love.

Even things like using power tools and woodworking again.

It's something Vietnam veteran Bobby Collins never thought would be possible.

“Most of the time when you do go somewhere and you're blind, people are like oh you can't do this, you can't do that. And here you're encouraged to go on and do things that normally you're not able to,” Collins said. "I was so bad hopeless that I thought I was never going to get out of the house again."

Collins served in the Navy and Marine Corps for 4 years. 

"Through life, I have done all kinds of different types of work. I was a carpenter, I did welding, I actually cowboyed for a living in Montana for 12 years. So I've had a pretty interesting life," Collins said.

Collins started noticing his vision deteriorating in 2010. By 2012, he was declared blind.

"As of right now, basically I see light, some shadows and catch some movement. I have glares that I can pick up like if there's a reflection of the sun on the windshield or the bumper, which those are huge clues. As far as being able to identify what someone looks like or what they're wearing, I couldn't do that but I normally learn voices pretty quick," Collins said.

Instructors say it's typical for veterans to feel isolated after their vision starts to go. The program seeks to get them out of that and back into living independently.

"You get them out into the community, doing projects and stuff. You need to have something to do," Jake Haight, an instructor at the rehab center said. "They see they they can do things again, we teach them a new way to do it."

It's a feeling Will Martin, a Marine Corps veteran, knows well.

"I was a machinist. I made aircraft parts. By trade I'm a C&C machinist," Martin said. "I haven't used a machine or anything in over 17 years."

Martin started losing his vision in 2005. 

"In 2006 I ended up giving up my keys to the car after my second red light that I ran. No accidents. And its been downhill effect since January," Martin said.

Since surgery, he's able to see better out of his left eye but he's completely blind in his right. 

After going through the program, Martin has been able to use machines and create various things with wood and leather.

"Knowing I can use a machine now, or see the machine well enough to use it safely has inspired me, even more, to want to do things," Martin said.

He started taking mechanical engineering classes and plans to eventually finish school to get an AA degree.

Collins reunited with his love for craftsmanship.

"My leather work is the thing I enjoy doing the most. It's my therapy to basically keep me sound in the mind," Collins said.

He started Bobby's Custom Leather.

"Makes me feel really useful you know because you spend so much time you feel useless. That once you find out you are kind of a useful person again it really builds up and makes your heart makes it better for you," Collins said.

"Once they catch on to that, then they start pushing ahead and once they start doing that they stop looking back so much and I think that's the big transition," Thomas Wedemeyer, a specialist at the rehab center, said.

For more information on the Blind Rehab Center, click here.

Copyright 2017 KXXV. All rights reserved.