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 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.
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.
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.
Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.
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.”
“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.”
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. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”
In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.”
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 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.”
Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.
Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.
Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.