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The Pentagon is expanding a program that helps vets heal with art and writing


National Endowment for the Arts Chairperson Jane Chu announces its expansion of sites within the Creative Forces Military Healing Arts Network at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 21, 2016. (DoD photo by Amaani Lyle)

Walter Reed National Medical Center announced this week a plan to expand a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Defense Department that focuses on creative art therapy for service members, veterans, and family members.

The "Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network" focuses on art therapy such as writing, painting, and singing to help service members address and deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

It's currently offered at Walter Reed in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are notoriously complex conditions to treat," the NEA chairman Jane Chu said, noting that day long workshops don't dig deep enough into the issues surrounding PTS and TBI.

Understanding that, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence decided to add a therapeutic writing program to its already existing creative art therapy program. That program now incorporates visual arts and music therapy.

Masks, decorated by service members, sit on display as part of the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 21, 2016. (National Endowment for the Arts courtesy photo)

The program, which received an additional $1.98 million funding in fiscal year 2016, has plans to expand to Marine Corps Bases Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

The NEA and DoD have enough funding to open those and five other sites around the country in 2017, the Pentagon says.

Readiness, diversity, location, population density and leadership were all taken into consideration when determining where to open expansion clinics, Chu said. Leadership is "critical to the success of our work together," Chu explained, adding that the expansion will also work with a network of community based nonprofit organizations.

The goal with the expansion, according to Chu, is to develop a web of resources and tools to help local organizations and communities as they work with the military community among them.

Chu reports that, through the program, veterans are better able to manage stress.

"We're seeing such transformational results in our service members and our expansion plans have come as a result of them saying that they want this program to be closer to their communities as they make a transition back into civilian life," Chu explained. "This is a way to help service members and veterans … understand the dignity that they already have and so much deserve."

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