Veterans say VA art program has been life-changing, art displayed in virtual showcase

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Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 5:07 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - People across the world are finding new ways to escape the pandemic. At the VA in Gainesville, people are using art as a release.

Singing, playing guitar, and painting are just some of the creative ways veterans at the VA are letting go. On Tuesday, their art was put on display in the VA’s Creative Arts Therapy Showcase.

For some veterans, creating art is a pleasant distraction. For others, it’s a favorite pastime or new hobby. For many, it’s a form of therapy.

With veterans unable to gather for the annual event, technology helped bring the showcase to life. It was a display of programs that some veterans say have changed their lives.

Mery Martinez served in the National Guard in the 1990′s. She was injured after being activated for Operation Desert Storm and ended her career in the military.

“I was becoming very depressed and isolated,” Martinez said.

She then went to school and starting working for the VA. At the VA, she found her love for music in the VA’s art programs.

“I’ve had surgeries ... I have had all kinds of treatment ... and I feel honestly this has been the most healing journey of all things the VA has done for me,” Martinez said.

The inspiration for the showcase and the art programs came about in 2014 when program leaders combined telehealth with the arts programs to make sure everyone had the opportunity to access this creative form of therapy.

“For some people, it is [a way] they can communicate things differently ... using writing or art or music. For other people, there is actually a benefit that comes ... people say it’s similar to something like meditation ... where you are having biological change happen to your body in a relaxation response … and just that sense of creating meaning and connection with other people ... in a way that people don’t often get to do as part of their health care,” said Heather Spooner, Board-Certified Art Therapist at the VA and UF.

The programs run year-round, giving veterans something to look forward to every day. Martinez said it is the one thing that always takes her pain away.

“This is what it feels to live. It is not we just ‘come to the VA— we are a number and we are a patient.’ This is what whole health means to me.”

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