Creating a Pathway for Veterans & the Arts

According to the TN Department of Veterans Services’ 2016 Annual Report, Tennessee’s total veteran population is well above 503,000 and more than 218,000 are over the age of 65 years old, which is 43% of the state’s Veteran population. Due to recent engagements, growth in the retiree population seems inevitable. The 2016 Annual Report continues, “Between 2014 and 2015, the number of Gulf War Veterans in Tennessee increased from 166,663 to 177,562, which is an increase of nearly 11,000.” The Volunteer State is home to a total military population inclusive of Fort Campbell, which exists adjacent to Clarksville TN of 27,000+. Four military bases exist within our state’s borders: Milan Army Ammunition Plant Army Base in Milan, Holston Army Plant Army Base in Kingston, Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, and NSA Mid South Naval Base in Millington. Tennessee is home to four VA Medical Centers, six Veteran Outpatient Clinics, 19 Community Based Outpatient Clinics and five Veteran Centers. Additionally, military and veteran resources are available through universities, service and nonprofit organizations.

Promoting creative expression through art, music, writing, dance and other artistic modalities help military service members, veterans and their families express themselves in new ways while improving their quality of life.  Individuals with opportunities to express themselves and share their stories can often better navigate the stress of transitioning from communities, being separated from family members or transitioning from military structure to the civilian workplace.  Art, more specifically, offers a nonverbal outlet of expression where many military veterans find their art to become an extension of themselves and their thoughts. This open creativity allows people of all backgrounds and ages to process traumatic experiences from their past and also navigate the visible and invisible challenges they face every day to foster growth and healing.

“Stressors can impact everyone, but there are some unique challenges that come from military service and the transition from uniform into the civilian life,” Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said.  “Outlets such as the arts and creative expression are valuable resources for navigating the transitions faced by service members, reservists, veterans and their families.”

Participation in the arts goes beyond enhancing the quality of life of Tennessee’s heroes; it can be a unique and effective pathway to provide relevant support for the needs of our service members, veterans and their families. For these military audiences, engaging in arts activities:

  • Enhances physical and emotional healing and provides important health benefits in every stage from recovery to wellness;
  • Strengthens a sense of self, and creates opportunities to tell one’s story in different ways, including nonverbal means of expression;
  • Builds a connection with the community and diminishes feelings of isolation, both by making art in a group setting and also by instigating a public discussion about topics relevant to military service members, veterans and their families.
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