Vet Arts Connect

We developed and launched our Vet Arts Connect initiative to support the health and well-being of military veterans by connecting them with vital experiences in nature and the creative arts. Consistent with scientific findings, many veterans report that artistic expression and encounters with nature improve their mood and self-confidence, while easing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and depression. We hope this successful demonstration project can influence and inspire other similar efforts to help veterans heal and flourish. 

Read more about how arts and nature experiences can help veterans.

Our Evaluation Process

Our Vet Arts Connect initiative worked to expand the base of evidence demonstrating the health benefits of veterans’ experiences with the arts and nature. Exposing veterans to these activities can have a positive impact on their levels of stress, anxiety, and anger; improve their ability to interact socially; and help them develop a higher level of self-esteem and self-confidence in their everyday lives. Through participation in an activity of their choice, veterans also learned skills directly related to the chosen art form or nature activity.

Vet Arts Connect worked with community partners to study the effects of arts and nature engagement on veterans’ overall health and well-being. Veterans in our study participated in partner-led arts and nature activities recognized as high quality, professional, culturally expanding, community-centered, physically and intellectually accessible, and inclusive. Participants were invited to provide data about their experiences before and after participating in a program.

Developing Program Partnerships

Vet Arts Connect created strong partnerships between arts and nature providers and local veteran service organizations (VSO) to offer quality programming for veterans. We partnered with providers who were already presenting arts and nature programs, and we adapted national models and programs to share at the local level and help local art and nature providers tailor existing programs for a veteran audience. We connected veterans with these opportunities by working with local Department of Veterans Affairs offices, VSOs, and veterans services offices at colleges and universities.

Providing Training for Partners

Vet Arts Connect prepared program instructors and facilitators to interact effectively with veterans using learning modules from Psych Armor Institute. Our training portal, developed specifically for Vet Arts Connect, offers two basic modules: 15 Things Veterans Want You to Know and Invisible Wounds of War.

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Resource Partners

psych armor institute logo
Training Partner
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Research Partner
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National Partner
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National Partner
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National Partner
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National Partner

Developing safety, persistence, trust

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Acquiring Resources

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
    • “I think I kept trying to convince him I was crazy. And he kept saying, ‘No, you’re not crazy.’ […] You wouldn’t necessarily say a Vietnam Vet was crazy. You’d say they are responding like you’d expect to extraordinary circumstances.”
    • “I’m not the only one who have [sic] this problem. A lots, millions of people, you know. […] They don’t have nothing to do with that. I guess I have to live.”
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
    “You need a lot of energy and a lot of work … it takes a lot of work. It doesn’t just happen. It’s not like a magic wand.” This patient understood that they had to actively participate in the healing process.
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

Helping Relationships

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) “When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. Healing, in this sense, does not mean cured—none of the study participants were cured of their ailments—”but all developed a sense of integrity and wholeness despite ongoing pain or other symptoms.” In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” When we begin to heal, we find increased capacity for hope, renewed motivation to help others, and are more able to accept ourselves as we are.

Suffering

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. “The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”