Poetry, Music, Art Helps Veterans With PTSD

Poetry, Music, Art Help Veterans With PTSD

These warriors are young and old, and have battled different foes across the world in conflicts spanning seven decades. United by their experience as combat veterans, they assemble to help each other overcome another common enemy: post-traumatic stress disorder. For the men and women who attend this “expressive arts session” every Friday morning at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, it is an important part of their therapy.

“PTSD can be insidious and defy short-term fixes,” said Dr. John Bair, a clinical psychologist who directs outpatient programs at Lovell designed to treat PTSD. The veterans treated for PTSD at Lovell, as in- and outpatients and through a variety of programs, come from all service branches, conflicts and walks of life. Many veterans who came to the sessions withdrawn and disturbed and now are blossoming as writers, musicians and artists, as well as graduating from college and getting jobs.

At the session, brightly colored service banners adorn the walls — 1st Cavalry Division, Airborne, Seabees. Some veterans wear service caps — Korea, USS Princeton — others their Purple Hearts. Some have breathing tubes and move about in electric scooters.

In the room is a small stage. Behind that is a display with military equipment from various eras — a desert-war era helmet perched on an M-4 rifle; jungle warfare boots and knapsacks from Vietnam. There is an honor bell on the wall, and next to it is a plaque listing the names — about 70 — of “fallen heroes” in the unit who died from PTSD.

The poets, musicians, and artists range from young women who served in Afghanistan and are coping with Military Sexual Trauma, to middle-age men who were drafted in their teens, to bruised old men who still have nightmares about the Korean War, to a ball-turret gunner in a B-17 during World War II.

At the end, Richard Beauvais, 64, a former Army UH-1 crew chief whose helicopter was shot down in Vietnam, shows the colorful landscape painting he created on his easel during the session. He hands it to a newly attending veteran as a gift.

“We are family here,” says the Waukegan resident. The young man beams with gratitude.