Supporting the Health of Our Veterans with the Arts

Posted by Ms. Kate O. McClanahan, Ms. Patricia Walsh, Ms. Marete Wester, Nov 10, 2016 0 comments

As Veterans Day approaches, we wanted to take pause to reflect on the transformative power that access to the arts has on veterans, their families, and the communities they call home.

Today and tomorrow, we will be publishing blog posts exploring the impact that access to the arts and creative arts therapies has had on veterans’ recovery and reintegration—and sometimes even redeployment. But for every veteran and service member, as well as their families and loved ones, who has felt and benefitted from the transformative power of the arts, there are some decision-makers who need to be convinced. In this first blog, we introduce some arguments as to why these powerful healing tools are necessary to the whole health and patient-centered care experience.

Recently, some media, politicians, and organizations have scrutinized the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about access to quality care for veterans. As part of this review, VA funds are being analyzed to understand why the construction of hospital funds are growing yet wait times for veterans’ access to VA medical services is a problem not yet solved. This is a serious question for sure, but the argument in these debates that the arts are part of the “wasteful” spending falls short when you examine the facts.

Linking the arts to the question of wasteful spending  has even been raised on the U.S. House floor by VA Committee leadership—but it has nothing to do with art. The arts aren’t the cause of waste, poor management, or bad estimates. Yet, it is fair to ask why the arts should be included in the implementation of healthcare for veterans. Why should taxpayers care if veterans have access to the arts during their treatment? Because art is enabling more optimal care, attracting and retaining hospital doctors and staff, and improving health care outcomes while lowering hospital care costs. Let’s take a closer look at these points.

1. Access to the arts improves patient care. Research findings confirm that arts programming, creative arts therapies, and evidence-based design:

  • build resilience;
  • enhance patient coping;
  • reduce length of hospital stays;
  • decrease the need for pain medication;
  • reduce patient levels of depression and situational anxiety;
  • increase self-esteem;
  • reduce healthcare-related infection rates;
  • decrease the need for use of sedation during medical procedures;
  • increase patient satisfaction, and;
  • improve medical providers’ recruitment and retention rates.

These outcomes are good for patient care and save on costs. Take private hospitals. They are doing this work, too. No matter how big the philanthropic investment, that investment wouldn’t occur unless there was tangible return or benefit from the investment. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute, which has been doing this work since 1983:

“Art in the healthcare setting, combined with outstanding care and service, creates an ambience that encourages healing and supports the work of medical professionals.”

Veterans in VA hospitals deserve the same level of care. Veterans are no less deserving of peace, serenity, and beauty than the civilian population.

2. The arts recruit and retain top healthcare talent. Job satisfaction, staff recruitment, and retention are crucial issues for healthcare facilities, and the arts are a proven way to recruit and retain doctors and staff

“For 96% of clinicians and 91% of nurses, the integration of the arts into health care result in a very pleasant environment.”

Private hospitals know this; in a survey of 2,333 healthcare institutions, 43% had arts programs, and that number has only increased in the twelve years since the survey! Increasingly, hospitals are developing and implementing strategies to retain the valuable nurses, doctors, and staff that they hire.

3. Access to the arts lowers health care costs. Integration of creative arts therapies results in patients requiring shorter hospital stays, less medication, and having fewer complications—all of which translates to a reduction in healthcare costs. Moreover, attention to ‘Surroundings’ is one of the core Components of Proactive Health and Well-being established by the VA as part of its effort to employ a holistic model of patient-centered care for veterans. 

During the installation of "Harbor," a veteran approached the artist to say, “I have been coming to this hospital to fix my body. This art is healing my soul.” | "Harbor" by Michele R. Gutlove, Design Studio GH, LLC installed at the Defenders’ Lodge, VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. Photo by Zev B. Hoover.

The arts matter, in communities, in healthcare, in education, in science, in so many ways in our daily lives and for our future. As we honor our veterans this week we invite you to check back to hear voices from those who can speak directly to the importance of arts and health. Have a story you want to share? Reply in the comments and also be sure to check out for information about the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military. Let’s provide our veterans with healthy spaces, talented medical staff and lower healthcare costs by supporting the integration of the arts into their healthcare.  

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