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VA Puget Sound announces 2021 Arts Competition winners and interactive, virtual artist gallery

“Physical Disability Duty” oil painting

Gallery visitors can vote for first-ever People’s Choice Award

The winners are in for VA Puget Sound Health Care System’s 21st local Veterans Arts Competition. Drumroll…

In the Art Division, first place winners are: Victoria Okuly for her “The Turnover” acrylic; Paul T. Williams for his “Pony Grazing” oil; Barbara Robinson’s “What Do You See?” watercolor; Donna Williamson for “Ruby Beach Sunrise Reboot” color photography; John Wayne Liston “Edge of the World” black and white photography; Patrick T.O. Wright “Golden Hour” military combat experience; Sean M. Connolly “Blue Vulnerability” collage; Roy Whittle “*Covid 19” mixed media; Jana Davis “Dancing Man” mosaic; Corrine Johnson “Untitled” original design in needlework; Mark W. Lubich “The Leaning Tower of Whoville” glasswork; Robert Shashinda “Raven Flock” metalwork; John L. Wickstrom “Life on the Prairie” leatherwork; Margaret Morey “Healing the Heart Within” beadwork; James Divens “Armored Vehicle Land Bridge (AVLB)” assemblage; Jim Anderson “No. 2 Celestial Compass” woodworking; Patricia Cassatt “Winter’s End” knitting/crochet; Daniel Leidheiser “Fire and Flowers” figurine painting kit; and Carlos Cherena “The Vietnam Era” model kit. 

Charles Burt took the best of show recognition with his “Physical Disability Duty” oil painting. A 20-year U.S. Army Veteran, Burt is one of only eight Veterans across the nation to earn two gold medals at the VA 2020 National Veterans Creative Art Competition,

In the Group Art category, the team of Kenneth Bicha, Sean Connelly, Mark Lubich and Boyd Raub took first for “Walden Pond” mixed media.

In the Creative Writing Division, first place artists were: Sherry Storms for her “Abandoned” rhyming poetry; Sean Brendan-Brown “King of Wounds” non-rhyming poetry; James Divens “What the American Flag Means To Me, And How I Respect and Protect It” personal essay; and Linda Acevedo “Lessons of Courage and Fear” special recognition.

Douglas Dodge took best of show with his “Rusksack” short story.

In the Music Division, first place went to: Ray Shafer for his “What a Wonderful World” instrumental solo jazz and Meagan Johnson for her “Glossy AF by Mrs Dink” original instrumental.

“Our annual arts competition is about self-expression, increased self-esteem and exchange on priceless stories of resilience,” said VA Puget Sound Creative Arts Competition Coordinator (since 2012) and recreation therapist, Jeanne Hopkins. “The annual event inspires a sense of achievement, often supporting a journey of recovery for many of our Veterans who participate.”

First-place winners at the local competition will advance to the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition, which will hosted by the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in April 2022. 

Work by all Creative Arts Festival winners and competition participants are featured on VA Puget Sound’s first-ever interactive, online gallery: The online gallery features photos of the actual artwork submissions.  While original mediums and sizes of the artwork vary, they appear as the same size in the gallery. 

Not only is the public encouraged to explore the collection of creative work, but virtual gallery visitors can also vote for a VA Puget Sound’s People’s Choice Award – a first-time, local award. Each gallery visitor can submit one vote, by emailing the artist’s name and work title to by January 3, 2022 (submission deadline).

For art entry details, visitors can click on each item and look to the upper right corner to learn more and to explore the work.

The competition spans five divisions: art, writing, dance, drama and music. Within those divisions, Veterans can express their creativity across a broad range of categories, from oil painting and leatherwork to paint-by-number kits and glassworks. Local creative arts competition first place winning entries advance to a national judging process and first, second and third place entries in each category are determined. Selected gold-medal-winning Veterans are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival hosted by a different VA facility each year.

Of the thousands of submissions in VA's 2020 National Veteran Creative Arts Competition, 10 VA Puget Sound Veterans received top awards: six gold (one Veteran landed two gold medals), three silver and two bronze medals (all award-winning work featured in photo). 

Co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary, the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is the culmination of talent competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music for Veterans treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs national health care system. Veterans exhibit their artwork and original writings or perform musical, dance or dramatic selections in a live stage show performance. All Veterans invited to participate are selected winners of year-long, national fine arts talent competitions in which thousands of Veterans enter, from VA medical facilities across the nation. For more information on how to participate or get involved contact VA Puget Sound’s local director at

VA Puget Sound has a long history of supporting national, regional and local recreation therapy events and programs to improve Veterans’ physical, social, cognitive and emotional functions as well as quality of life every day. In addition to the annual arts competition, VA Puget Sound staff take teams to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic and the National Veterans Golden Age Games. Regionally and locally, VA Puget Sound Recreation Therapy staff co-host Adaptive Curling Clinics at Granite Curling Club and organize Veteran participation in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, adaptive golf clinics and Team River Run kayaking activities. Adaptive fencing, co-hosted with Salle Auriol Seattle, began in 2020. And VA Puget Sound continues to explore new ways to improve the quality of life for injured Veterans.

VA Puget Sound provides comprehensive care to more than 155,000 Veterans across the Pacific Northwest—approximately 120,000 are enrolled with a primary care team at one of its 10 care sites: two main campuses (American Lake and Seattle), six outpatient clinics (Edmonds, Mount Vernon, Olympia, Port Angeles, Puyallup and Silverdale) and two Community Resource & Referral Centers (Georgetown in Seattle and Renton). As the VA’s 4th largest research program, VA Puget Sound has research in virtually every major clinical department, including: TBI and multiple blast exposures; memory improvement and Alzheimer's Disease; PTSD and deployment health; Parkinson’s Disease; diabetes; cancer; substance abuse; lower limb prosthetics; genomics; and Health Services. Additionally, it has seven nationally recognized Centers of Excellence (in areas from limb-loss prevention and prosthetic engineering to primary care education and substance abuse treatment). For more information visit

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