I've never fought in a war. Not even close to it. Today, I can only honor Veterans Day in the ways I know how, which are far removed from the wounds and trauma of war but perhaps can offer support to those who have experienced it.
Returning from deployment, many of our 22 million veterans are faced with unemployment (with proportionately more women than men seeking jobs). Some are disabled as the result of service-related injuries. In fact, the Obama Administration is paying the largest number of veteran disability claims in the history of our country. And while homelessness rates have gone down since 2010, tens of thousands of veterans still face the harsh reality of living without permanent shelter. And, of course, there are the more intangible symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression and suicidal thoughts. And the struggles that come with addiction and substance abuse. (Read this fact sheet from the Center for American Progress about the current state of our veterans' community.)
Important government services like health care, pensions, disability payments and housing subsidies do their part to help heroes heal.
But we can always do more. Veterans are not victims. They have stories to tell. And we have a duty to listen, so they don't have to fight their internal battles alone.
Here are some alternative programs, exhibits and projects that celebrate our veterans through the power of media. For more information about the power of art for wounded warriors and their communities, read "Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum," a white paper prepared by Americans for the Arts.
The "100 Faces of War" exhibit will be at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago through May 1, 2015. The project represents a cross-section of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and artist Matt Mitchell used statistics based on military branch, rank, gender, race, and dates and location of deployment to create the portraits. One-on-one conversations with the veterans heavily informed each painting. “The subjectivity of the experience is really important for creating this kind of warmth, and heightened sense of human touch, human interaction,” he said. Read more at the NEA's website.
CREATIVE ARTS THERAPY
The National Endowment for the Arts expanded its arts partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense to bring a Creative Arts Therapy program to mmilitary patients at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital’s satellite center of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Fairfax County, Virginia. The program offers activities in the visual arts, mask-making, and therapeutic writing. Artmaking is relaxing--it actually is known to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. It allows veterans to externalize their internal struggles, including anger, shame or guilt. It helps them re-connect to society.
ART & WRITING EVENTS
Warrior Writers is a national nonprofit that fosters artistic exploration and expression through workshops, retreats, trainings and events. Check out their schedule of upcoming activities, ranging from a paper-making workshop to a theater production.
The Combat Paper Project invites veterans to art exhibits and papermaking workshops all over the country, where they use their uniforms worn in service to create original works of art. "The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper," Combat Paper explains. "Participants use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniforms as art and express their experiences with the military." They sometimes collaborate on events with the Warrior Writers. Learn more about the workshops here.
The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore is the largest center chartered by USO, and it offers a variety of community activities to support veterans and their families, including some arts-based programming, like United Through Reading, which allows deployed troops to read a bedtime story to their kids; Stand-Up Comedy at Fort Belvoir; Movies on the Lawn, providing free outdoor movie screenings; and Operation Game On, which calls upon service members to use their military knowledge to dominate in the video game world.