ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Years after returning home from a war zone, some veterans have trouble recovering from the trauma of the battlefield. Jeff Metheny found ways to cope through painting.

Metheny served in the United States Army for 16 years.

He had no previous experience painting before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, where he took up the hobby.

“Morale started going down and I started looking around and I noticed that everything was named after somebody who had died. There wasn’t anything to honor the living, so I decided I was going to start painting,” he said.

One day, Metheny said he was chewing on a toothpick and noticed it looked like a brush.

When he wasn’t able to sleep at night, he used the time to paint.

“Just out of of love for my fellow service members, I started painting again and I, I told myself I was going to paint with toothpicks because it’s hard. I’m going to paint with toothpicks as a way of honoring my brothers and sisters in arms past and present,” said Methany.

When he returned home, he planned on giving up the hobby.

“What I didn’t know at the time was I’d already developed PTSD and a couple of months, six, seven months later, I developed a traumatic brain injury. And the painting that I was doing in Afghanistan became my own art therapy program that I didn’t realize at the time that I had developed,” he said.

He paints whatever comes to mind, and sells some of them at art shows, online, or gives them away.

Metheny said he completes about 100 paintings a year, most of them done in the two-month period around the Fourth of July.

“I tend to be in my basement listening to music and painting,” he said. “As a kid, I ran around shooting bottle rockets at my friends and it never occurred to me that there might have been a vet two or three houses down that was suffering because I was celebrating. I don’t fault them.
I just wish that people today would have a little bit more awareness of the potential harm they’re doing.”

Metheney said he hopes his painting-with-toothpicks projects show others that nothing is impossible with time, effort, and a belief in oneself.

One of this series of paintings is called “Where are they going?”

“I’m working on the Great Wall of China. Paris, you know, Brazil. It’s all these places that I want to go that I probably never will go. But I get to go, up here [in my mind]. And as long as you keep as long as you keep thinking and keep moving, you keep living,” he said.

Metheny is a veteran service officer and is on the board of the Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation, named after the only living Medal of Honor recipient that lives in Illinois.

“To me, it’s it’s it’s a day to be thankful that I get to wear that title. I mean, we all wear hundreds of different hats. You know, husband, father, wife, mother, brother, sister. I am one of the few people who get to wear the hat of a veteran,” he said.

The Allen J Lynch Foundation is hosting its first fundraising dinner in February and two of Jeff’s paintings will be up for auction.