The consequences of military service lasts long after the battlefield. Most have trouble readjusting to civilian life. Even more challenging is Post-tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is a long-term illness that is estimated to afflict 20% of Iraqi war veterans and nearly 1/3 of Vietnam veterans . Luckily, there have been efforts to address not only veterans’ physical health challenges but also their mental ones. One program is the Veterans Affairs’ recreational therapy programs.
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at Chicago’s Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital during the local 2014 Veterans Creative Arts Competition. This competition is open to veterans undergoing recreational therapy for physical and/or mental illnesses. They competed in dozens of types of art ranging from painting to storytelling. This event had everyone from accomplished musicians to beginning drawers, but the results were the same. It was an opportunity for those who served to work through their emotions and focus in on constructive talents.
Plus, it allowed the audience to play the role of positive reinforcers. For example, one veteran did a dramatic interpretation of a fictional veteran explaining an awful incident he experienced in Vietnam. This was art imitating life. Given the veteran’s age, he may well have been using the fictional account to deal with situtations he actually encountered during the war. Another veteran sang an uplifting song about her strength since finding god. In both cases, the experience itself was helpful for their treatment as the audience supported the artists and, at times, even sang along!
The best entrants may have the opportunity to showcase their talents along with other artistic veterans from across the country at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Milwaukee. At this big event, singers will be backed up by a professional orchestra. Given the caliber of talent just right here in Chicago, this event will be well worth a ride up I-90 during the Fall.
For more information, check out the official website: http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/caf/index.asp . Make sure to look for next year’s competition too. It is usually the last Wednesday of February at 1pm at Chicago’s Jesse Brown VA Hospital.