Americans for the Arts - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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Americans for the Arts

Americans for the Arts and VHA focus on Veterans’ wellness through the Whole Health System

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Americans for the Arts (AFTA) are continuing their work together to increase Veterans’ access to the arts and humanities and enhance services for them and their families. This expansion of an existing partnership will provide more Veterans with the opportunity to experience how arts can benefit their health and well-being. It also supports the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) implementation of the Whole Health System, a holistic approach to health care that empowers and equips people to take charge of their wellness.

To bring this partnership expansion to fruition, VHA’s Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation (OPCC&CT) will work with AFTA to create a formalized process by which VA facilities can establish new, collaborative relationships with local arts partners. Over the past several years, more than 30 VA facilities have participated in efforts to bring the partnership’s offerings to Veterans. Now, through this formalized process, these facilities can expand their offerings so that more Veterans can participate in arts and humanities programming at their local medical center or at community partner facilities. Local offerings could include one or more of several evidence-based arts and humanities modalities, including: cultural therapy, dance, origami, drumming, storytelling, music, art, and more.

The Whole Health System centers around “what matters” to a patient, such as arts well-being programs, not just “what is the matter” with a patient. Whole Health aims to focus on patients’ goals and partnership between them and their health care teams over time, not only disease management. VA recognizes that Veterans need this type of health system; clinical encounters are only one part of the overall health care equation.

Since 2018, OPCC&CT has collaborated with AFTA, VA’s Voluntary Service, and VHA’s Recreation Therapy Service to coordinate workshops that educate VA staff about developing partnerships between VA and community arts and humanities organizations. The aim of these partnerships is to bring Veterans resources and tools that may enhance their health. OPCC&CT will plan another Arts and Humanities in Support of Greater Health and Well-Being Workshop in 2020, as well.

“Purposeful activity in the arts has a major benefit with Veterans we serve,” said Donna Faraone, OPCC&CT’s Field Implementation Team (FIT) lead.

Some of the benefits Veterans can experience by participating in art therapy are:

  • An opportunity for reintegration into the community through participation in group art classes;
  • A sense of comfort and relaxation from the endorphins – “feel-good chemicals” – produced by creating art;
  • A chance to learn a new skill, occupy the mind, and express oneself; and/or:
  • Decreased feelings of pain and increased healing; VA staff have stated that when Veterans participate in art therapy, they ask less frequently for pain medication and nurse assistance, leave health care facilities sooner, and get better faster.

OPCC&CT and AFTA will also attend and participate in at least one conference or workshop throughout fiscal year 2020 to support the growth of this partnership. For example, the partners will reveal lessons learned from previously held workshops at the 2020 Military in the Arts Summit. Throughout the year, the team will follow-up with an estimated 14 different VA medical centers to evaluate their process planning for the partnership. Sites may conduct meet-and-greets between key VA personnel and potential community arts partners.

“Through VA’s Whole Health approach to care, each Veteran has the opportunity to be an active participant in their personal health planning process,” said Ms. Faraone. “If VA can have an impact in transforming the approach to health care to the Whole Health model, then maybe there’s potential at some point to spread Whole Health practices to the community that does not receive health care from VA.”

This and other partnerships established by VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) support the administration’s mission to honor America’s Veterans by increasing their health and well-being.

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Posted November 25, 2019