New Brockton VA beekeping venture targets vets struggling with anxiety, depression

By MARC LAROCQUE | The Enterprise (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 9, 2018

BROCKTON, Mass. – Behind Building 5 on the Brockton VA, a new hive is contributing to the well-bee-ing of local veterans.

In partnership with the nonprofit Vet Center in Brockton, the Brockton Campus of the VA Boston Healthcare System unveiled its first on-site beehive on Friday. Several veterans put on beekeeping suits and cracked open the hive, causing the bees to swarm around, demonstrating how it works for the VA workers and local elected officials who gathered for a ribbon cutting. The hive, located in a wooded area behind Building 5 on the Brockton Campus of VA Boston Healthcare System, is meant to offer a therapeutic new hobby for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and stress.

"It's incredibly therapeutic," said Jeff Munsell, a Brockton resident and Dighton native, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. "It's mesmerizing. You can sit there and watch them for a while and just watch them work. These guys here are what make nature work."

Munsell said the bees will help the 1 1/2 acres of vegetables and flowers that need pollinating at the nearby Brockton VA greenhouse, which he manages. And the veterans who maintain the beehive will be able to harvest the honey made from the beehive starting next year.

"It's a wonderful thing," Munsell said. "It's mutually beneficial. The vegetables and flowers need the pollination. ... Now we can get some veterans involved with beekeeping. The beautiful thing is that they make a lot more honey than they need. So once or twice a year, once they're established, we can go in and collect the honey. It's just such a wonderful treat from nature."

The first-ever Brockton VA beehive came to fruition after it was pushed by Curtis Armitage, a social worker from the Vet Center in Brockton, who is a beekeeper in his spare time. The Vet Center, which formed in 1979, is located on Pearl Street in Brockton, providing counseling and readjustment services for veterans and their family members after they return from combat to civilian life. After Armitage requested the beehive project, he eventually got permission, and The Vet Center purchased the materials for the bees and hive, while the VA offered the use of their land.

Armitage said beekeeping can help reduce stress, provide solace, form accountability and create a sense of purpose for veterans after coming home from overseas service.

"The idea is that veterans are coming home, they're getting more involved in the community, getting more involved in the environment, and getting reconnected into society," said Armitage, who is also a veteran himself. "I think some veterans aren't ready to sit in an office and reflect and think about their military experiences. I think for some the first step is really getting connected to the community and reconnected to society and caring for an organism. That's the essential thing about the beekeepers. You're caring for something other than you. And that, I think, is a really good first step for some veterans."

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