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Art Therapy in the Military Community

Art Therapy in the Military Community

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

In the summer of 2018, I started down a new path. I was never one to avoid technology, but as a crusty old artilleryman, I would rather send high explosive artillery rounds downrange using charts and darts than the automated indirect fire systems we were fielding on a regular basis. But this time, I was fresh to the engagement app scene, helping our little company use the web and social media to make connections and make a difference.

And, a little over a year ago, I wrote an article for our blog called The Healing Power of Art, where I barely skimmed the surface…of how therapeutic art can be. To help dial in and, at the very least, pen a good article, I had to dig in and get my boots muddy. I was fortunate to find a very talented and very giving subject matter expert right here in St. Louis, a 20-year US Navy Submarine Veteran who has both passion and determination to go along with his artistic talent.

That submariner is Scott Beaty, a man for whom the visual arts have long been a format for creative expression, emotional healing, strength, and a sense of purpose. Shortly after he retired from the Service, Scott realized his love for art was also a gateway to his own healing and mental health. Discovering therapy in art, he began pursuing it all the way to earning a Master’s Degree in Fine Art and founding the organization he leads today.

 

When Scott founded the organization Visions for Vets in 2015, he discovered a way to help Veterans find freedom, purpose, and mental health close to home …through teaching and creating art and building strong Veteran camaraderie. Visions for Vets is a non-profit art school that enriches the lives of military Veterans while empowering them through the healing power of the arts. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Visions for Vets is an independent non-profit, not affiliated with or funded by any government or VA program. Art as therapy wasn’t necessarily born here, but it sure found a home in Visions for Vets.

 

Scott talks further about the experience: “We’ve found that once Veterans have gained confidence in their newly-found, rekindled, or enhanced art skills, they’re ready to serve all over again. Service is at the heart of Visions for Vets and we seek to help Veterans continue the mission through art, building important relationships in their communities and engaging in outreach to bring the power of the healing arts to those in need of peace and joy.”

While a tremendous resource for those that need it, Visions for Vets never claims to be an official form of therapy; art therapy is typically facilitated by a professional art therapist to support personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Honoring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.

If you’ve seen the healing power of art in action, you know the life-changing effects it can have on our Brothers & Sisters that struggle. Of course, not all Veterans that connect with art have a post-traumatic stress diagnosis, but for those that do, art is a great option for healing.  For years, art has been shown to improve interpersonal skills, increase self-awareness, and boost self-esteem. It can mean relief for that PTS and other issues stemming from military service. Clinically speaking, this helps reduce tension and anxiety, which can relieve pain and set a strong foundation for the process of healing or coping with lifelong disabilities. A 2012–14 survey at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE, the outpatient clinic dedicated to treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland) ranked art therapy among the top five most helpful techniques used to treat veterans.

In addition to Visions for Vets and plenty of other local groups with the same mission, there’s an emphasis on the power of the visual arts at the national level, as well. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their own platforms in the Creative Forces Network and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

 

Creative Forces is a network of caring people made possible by a unique collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, DoD, the VA, and state arts agencies; a network made up of creative arts therapists, artists, doctors, military service members, veterans, community leaders, and policymakers who believe in the transformative and restorative powers of art. Those professionals use the creative arts as an effective rehabilitative therapy to help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities by encouraging expression in a non-threatening way. Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in local creative arts competitions, culminating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

So, before you move on to other things, here’s my ‘ask’: connect with the ‘art as therapy’ concept. For those of you looking for a military charity to support, I encourage you to learn more about organizations like Visions for Vets and the people behind them. If you have a battle buddy or know someone else who could benefit from the therapeutic effects of art, help them make the connection. And if it’s you that needs to experience the healing power of art, then by all means, create!

 

 

Poll Finds Most Veterans and Military Support Legalization of Medical Marijuana

medical mara

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. For many people who are in pain, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Legion found that while 82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, 92% supported expanded research into the medical benefits of the drug.

It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Additionally, there is a push to reschedule the drug to a Schedule II or III. That would automatically lift the barriers to research, and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

According to the American Legion’s poll, one in five veterans surveyed consume marijuana “to alleviate a medical or physical condition.”

And it no longer needs to be smoked… medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients’ pain or discomfort.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Best Answers for Law Enforcement Interview Questions

mil to law

By Debbie Gregory.

Law enforcement officers and military veterans have a lot in common: both wear their uniforms with pride; both are a part of a larger team of professionals protecting those who can’t protect themselves; both put their personal safety at risk; and both operate within a rigid command structure. There is a natural path that leads many military veterans to seek government jobs for veterans, including jobs in law enforcement when they transition to the civilian workforce.

Some pre-planning can help close the deal after the interview process to secure law enforcement jobs for veterans.

The interview is where you get your sole opportunity to make a good first impression. Preparing your answers to commonly asked interview questions can make or break your chances of getting the law enforcement job you are hoping for.

Why do you want this job? Don’t answer that you think it would be a cool job. Draw on those similarities between military service and law enforcement: the service to those who can’t protect themselves, the camaraderie, and being part of a team.

What are your salary requirements? When it comes to compensation, don’t give an exact number. You should be familiar with the salary range, and you can say that you expect to be paid the appropriate range for this job, based on the location and your experience.

What is your biggest weakness? Focus on something that you have worked on to improve. For example, if your tactical driving skills were less than what you were happy with, share some of the details of the advanced driving course you took.

Tell Us About You. If you’re asked to tell your interviewer about who you are, resist the temptation to give a chronology of your adult life. Instead, focus on your life experiences as they pertain to the job.

Why should you be hired? Again, call on your military service, stressing that you are a physically and mentally fit candidate. You have good decision-making abilities, common sense, and respect a paramilitary chain of command.

Why are you leaving your current job? If you’re transitioning out of the military, this is an easy question to answer. Remember, if you’re a veteran, you shouldn’t badmouth a previous boss. If you had one that was particularly challenging, focus on what you learned from that person.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

DoD Expands Online Exchange Shopping Eligibility

shop exchange

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 16 million honorably discharged military veterans will soon be able to make purchases from online military exchanges, under a recently announced Department of Defense policy change.

Slated to begin appropriately November 11, Veterans Day, the move is a way to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families, as well as strengthening the exchanges through the Department of Defense’s increased online presence, competitive prices and selections, and bargaining power with vendors when millions of additional customers are added.

Although veterans will not be able to buy uniforms, alcohol or tobacco products, the rest of the Exchange Services’ inventory, including clothing, appliances, jewelry, etc. will be available. The Exchange also carries high-end name branded merchandise

Brick-and-mortar military exchanges on bases or posts are already open to many veterans who live near them, as well as their dependents and surviving spouses. But the new policy will benefit those who don’t live near a base or who may not have the means to get to the base store.

Months of preparation are needed to make e-shopping portals more robust and to allow the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) time to create software for verifying veterans’ status using Department of Veterans Affairs records.

“As a nation, we are grateful for the contributions of our service members. Offering this lifetime online benefit is one small, tangible way the nation can say ‘Thank you’ to those who served with honor,” said Peter Levine, acting under-secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The commissary shopping benefit isn’t involved, so there won’t be any dilution to that benefit, or any increase in crowding or product availability.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Should Congress Halt Concurrent Receipt to Veterans to Save Money?

concurrent

By Debbie Gregory.

The Congressional Budget Office has revealed that eliminating the collection of retirement pay and disability compensation simultaneously could save the government billions of dollars.

Changing the benefit, which is called “concurrent receipt” would affect some 600,000 military veterans who are able to collect both benefits.

Veterans who sustained career-ending combat injuries are eligible for combat-related special compensation, while those veterans who received a disability rating of 50 percent or more after at least 20 years of service are eligible for concurrent retirement and disability pay.

Congress authorized some veterans to take both as military personnel began to sustain grievous wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then the number of veterans receiving both retirement pay and disability compensation has risen drastically — from 33 percent in 2005 to more than 50 percent in 2015.

Up until 2003, disabled veterans had to select either their full retirement compensation from the Department of Defense or their disability benefit from Veterans Affairs with a reduced retirement annuity.

In 2015, Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, then-director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) said, “MOAA’s position is that career service members earn their retired pay by service alone and those unfortunate enough to suffer a service-caused disability in the process should have any VA disability compensation from the VA added to, not subtracted from, their service-earned military retired pay.”

Last year, about 55 percent of the 2 million or so military retirees were subject to the VA offset penalty. Of those, about half — 575,000 retirees — took both payments totaling $10 billion, according to CBO estimates.

Changing the benefit could potentially save the government $139 billion over the next eight years. But is it the right thing to do?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Army Looks to Tackle Anger Amongst Combat Vets

anger

By Debbie Gregory.

It is not uncommon for military veterans to join police forces and vice versa. Both jobs offer a strong sense of teamwork and reliance on others in life-or-death situations — in platoons and out on patrol.

That’s part of the reason why these attacks on police by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement.

In light of the shooting deaths of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas by former service members, the Army is trying to better understand why as many as 40 out of every100 troops return from war struggling with anger and aggression.

Whether there is a link between their military service and the shootings is unknown. And military researchers have been studying the issue of anger for almost a decade.

We all get angry sometimes; it’s part of being human. But if anger is expressed in ways that are harmful to ourselves or someone else, or persists for a long time, it can become a problem.

Reacting to a threat with immediate action, rather than freezing, is an important part of military training. The problem is, a lot of veterans have trouble turning off that survival instinct once they get home.

It is thought that anger and aggression may be linked to combat-zone ailments, including disrupted sleep patterns and recurring nightmares For some veterans, anger can be related to another mental health problem like depression, post traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and other drug use.

Amy Adler, an Army clinical research psychologist, said while military studies show the presence of anger and aggression in some troops returning from war, it remains uncertain whether those emotions reach the kind extreme behavior exhibited in the recent spate of shootings of police.

“I don’t think we know that,” Adler said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.