The Healing Arts
Recently, the VA hosted two Arts and Humanities Conferences creating forums for VA staff, Veterans, and community partners to come together to expand opportunities for Veterans and their family members to participate in Arts and Humanities Programs across the country. The VA Arts and Humanities Conferences were designed to demonstrate the linkage between creative arts and one of the VA’s top priorities and the Whole Health transformation which supports Veterans in achieving their best health and well-being.
Laura Krejci, Associate Director for the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation and one of the organizer of the conference says, “The arts and humanities have been a long-standing approach to enriching the quality of life and improving overall well-being for Veterans. Even in the early 1900’s, we find the US Military integrated the arts into military service and the VA has been a leader in providing Creative Arts to promote recovery, health, fulfillment, and joy for Veterans.”
Along with improving quality of life, the arts and humanities enhance and maintain physical and cognitive abilities, provide opportunities for social communication skill development, creative expression, as well as spiritual expression. In the VA health care system, Recreation Therapists and Creative Arts Therapists provide therapeutic interventions for Veterans who are receiving care. Lil Shine, Acting Director for Recreation Therapy and one of the conference organizers added, “Therapists use techniques, tools, and materials of their unique discipline for therapeutic purposes in engaging Veterans in opportunities that promote and support creative self-expression, leisure development, health promotion, and disease prevention that integrates function, quality, and meaning to one’s life."
The two day Arts and Humanities Conferences were attended by 66 VA staff, Veterans, community partners and Program Offices leaders. Veterans participated in the event to ensure the “Voice of the Veteran” was a cornerstone of the effort to expand community partnership to provide increased opportunities for Veterans to benefit from the Arts and Humanities. The following VHA facilities were represented during the conferences:
East Liverpool, OH
Hot Springs, SD
Las Vegas, NV
|Long Beach, CA
Los Angeles, CA
San Diego, CA
VA Central Texas (Temple, TX)
VA North Texas (Dallas, TX)
Along with aligning the arts with the VHA strategic priorities, one major objective of the conference was to actively engage the participants in work sessions where arts programming supports the Components of Proactive Health and Well-Being (shown below), promoting an increase in a person’s overall well-being. This experiential activity took place through “rounding sessions.”
Benefits and Outcomes
One of the presenters at these conferences was Dr. Donna Ames, who is a Program Leader at the Greater Los Angeles (GLA) VA Health Care System Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) and Professor in Residence at the UCLA School of Medicine illustrated the benefits of including performing arts as a therapeutic program at the GLA PRRC. Ames says, “Particularly with the segment of Veteran population with serious mental illness, performing arts like dance increases bodily awareness by building movement and dance skills. It expands an individual’s ability for creative expression, and fosters community and social integration through collaborative activities.”
Partnership and Teamwork
Partnership with community and other non-VA organizations also was identified as a key ingredient to the successful implementation of arts programs at VA health care facilities and programs. As an illustration, the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) also participated in the workshops. The relationship between VA and AFTA has been forged with a Memorandum of Agreement that acknowledges the collaboration and coordination between the two organizations in support for the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military. The goals of this initiative is to: Advance the policy, practice, and quality use of arts and creativity as tools for health in the military; Raise visibility, understanding, and support of arts and health in the military; and Make the arts as tools for health available to all active duty military, medical staff, family members, and Veterans.