Building a better life: Wisconsin veteran finds therapy through LEGOs

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee veteran is bettering his life one LEGO at a time.

On the fourth of May, many know it’s Star Wars Day, and celebrate with the saying “May the 4th be with you”.

For Jeff Haagensen, an Army veteran, it’s a day that means much more.

LEGOs weren’t always a part of Jeff Haagensen’s life, in fact he hated them.

“As a kid, I absolutely hated LEGOs…hated LEGOs,” Army Veteran, Jeff Haagensen says.

But now, if you take a look at his collection of work, you might say they play a pretty big role in his life.

“At one point you couldn’t sit on my couch, use my coffee table, my kitchen table. You couldn’t use the bar top, kitchen counters, everything was LEGOs,” Haagensen says.

He’s worked with thousands of blocks that have helped bring him to a happier and healthier place then he was many years ago. Haagensen is an army veteran who served multiple tours from 1998 to 2011. After his final tour, he battled PTSD and turned to drugs and alcohol, before his life changed in 2015.

“I thought I was doing well, and then one weekend a memory came up on Facebook when I was in Afghanistan, and within 24 hours things went from clean, and sober, and happy, to in the hospital with a broken back from a suicide attempt,” Haagensen said.

He attempted to take his life, and thankfully survived. He is now in a wheelchair and finds joy and peace in his LEGO building. Although a traumatic event took place back in 2015, his story didn’t end there. He began working with LEGOS while recovering from surgeries at the Milwaukee VA in 2018 and first began his new passion. He said it was a new hobby that kept his mind occupied. 

“It just means pain relief. It’s just a way of dealing with it other than the alcohol and drugs, like I used to,” Haagensen said.

Instead of drugs and alcohol, he’s turned to LEGOs instead. It’s a positive outlet for him to stimulate his brain and keep busy. He has built hundreds of them in just three short years. His favorites are of course, Star Wars.

As he makes his way around his newly set up exhibit at the War Memorial, he reflects back on all he’s made and the things he’s accomplished while building these LEGOs.

He found a form of therapy that is symbolic of him putting the pieces back together for himself, while building creations that are out of this world.

Interested in meeting Jeff Haagensen and seeing his exhibit on display? You can check out his work at the War Memorial Center in Milwaukee this week.



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