Maranatha Bivens

Americans for the Arts Holds Congressional Briefing on Veterans and Creative Arts Therapies

Posted by Maranatha Bivens, Nov 12, 2015 0 comments

Maranatha Bivens

“How many people here have served in the military?” Two people in the briefing room raised their hands. Brigadier General (Ret) Nolen Bivens scanned the room of Congressional staffers and tried another question. “How many of you know a Veteran?” The room filled with raised hands. “That’s why we’re here,” he said.

Figure 1 BG Nolen Bivens, USA RET, welcomes participants to the Veterans and the Arts congressional briefing.

Each year on Veterans Day we reflect on the past and present service of members of the armed forces. With service members returning from combat in waves, and a large percentage living within the civilian community, chances are, you know someone with military affiliation. Along with those taking the time to thank family members, neighbors, or coworkers for their service, there are numerous nonprofits, businesses, and organizations banding together to create program and outreach efforts to support the military community. 

Figure 2 Panelists Ashley Atkins, Ph.D., Johnson & Johnson, Laura Krejci, VA-Office of Patient Centered Care and Marete Wester, Americans for the Arts address Congressional staff at the Rayburn House Office Building.In that spirit, Americans for the Arts recently held a Congressional briefing on Veterans and the arts community, highlighting new partnerships, ongoing programs, and resources for going forward. BG Bivens, President of Leader Six, Inc., moderated the informative session with panelists Laura Krejci, Associate Director, Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation and Ashley Atkins, Manager of Corporate Contributions and Community Relations for Johnson & Johnson presenting on the VA’s Art, Health & Well-Being pilot project. VA is using the new “whole health" model which is helping Veterans achieve greater health and accomplish goals that are important to them.

The personalized approach requires a dyanmic customization of self care and professional health strategies, specifically relevant to the individual, and based upon factors such as their medical conditions, their genome, needs, values and circumstances.  In addition to being personalized, this approach is proactive, using strategies that strengthen the person’s innate capacity for health and healing, such as mind-body approaches and nutritional strategies.  The third distinction of this whole health model is that it is patient-driven, rooted in and driven by that which matters most to that person in their life, and aligns their health care and with their day-to-day and long term life goals. Veterans and their family members are experiencing the benefits of this whole health approaches to healing using the arts and creative arts therapies.

This personalized, proactive, patient-driven approach starts by changing the conversation with Veterans.  Rather than focusing on “what’s the matter with you?” providers are asking, “What matters most to you?” Discovering what brings each person joy and happiness, often times, is related to the arts and humanities.  Learn more about how the VA is using the arts in healing here.

Figure 3 Laura Krejci, Associate Director of the VA - OPCC explains the VA's Patient Centered Care strategy.

How do they know the approach is working? “Discovering Art and Healing at the VA,” a short video filmed at the VA center in Lyons, NJ, showed arts programs in action in VA health care systems throughout NJ and NY.  The video features testimony from Veteran artists who are now able to better process their experiences and express emotions through art. David Jones, a former Army medic, attests to the role sculpture and writing have played in his healing process. “Art makes you feel something before you’re ready to feel it.”

Krejci and Atkins both emphasized the importance of continual assessment and evaluation of the project, with site self-assessments, and using an evaluation toolkit to measure outcomes. Phase II of the pilot project will include holding two regional forums to share strong practices, having Clinical Champions on hand to better educate health care providers, and the development of a VA Arts and Humanities program guide.

How do you get started? At the local and national level, there is no shortage of organizations willing to join the Veteran support effort. Ashley Atkins said that partnerships and collaborations are a great way to get started, making connections and pooling together the resources and strategies of like-minded organizations. Marete Wester, Americans for the Arts’ Senior Director of Arts Policy, presented resources for advancing the arts for the well-being of service members, their families, Veterans, and caregivers inspired by the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military. She pointed to Arts Across the Military, the National Initiative’s central online portal that includes publications, presentations, a national events calendar, and the  National Network Directory, a comprehensive and growing list of artists, organizations, and individuals active in the community of support at the local, state and national levels. Training is also available through the three-part webinar series, “Arts Deployed: A Practical Guide to Support the Arts, Health, and Well-Being across the Military Continuum”, co-produced by Americans for the Arts and the American Legion Auxiliary. 

Briefing attendees saw footage from the National Veterans Arts Festival, a weeklong event held in October, co-presented by the VA, and the American Legion Auxiliary. This past month, approximately 120 Veterans presented their artwork or performed music, dancing, and readings of original work at the National Festival event hosted by the Durham VA Medical Center in Durham, NC. To keep the festivities going and reach Veteran communities nationwide, smaller versions of the festival are in the works for VA medical centers throughout the country and their American Legion Auxiliary local chapter partners.

Though the national events raise visibility on a heightened scale, the briefing panelists reiterated the importance of creating and nurturing events and opportunities at the local, grassroots level. It’s in this position that we can narrow the focus, create beneficial partnerships, and hear the service member voice in order to provide the most support across the military continuum. 

You can view PDF’s of the presentations and briefing handouts here

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