Healing Soldiers through Writing

“Art is fundamental to health and to humanity.” – Rocco Landsman, NEA chairman

The US Military will begin  a new pilot program this month to better serve their healing soldiers at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Center has joined forces with the National Endowment for the Arts to offer soldiers with “signature wounds” a writing therapy called ‘Operation Homecoming.’

The most complex heath conditions to heal are the traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues known as the  “signature wounds.” The writing workshop will focus on healing these wounds from ‘traumatic war experiences’ through expressive writing techniques of journaling and poetry. The workshop will be instructed by  Ron Capps, a 25-year veteran Army officer.He is the founder of the Veterans Writing Project for veterans, active and reserve military members, and military family members. Capp’s goal is to offer the soldiers techniques to express their fears and learn to cope with them.

“Writing [allows you] to take a memory that might be stuck in the back of your mind, make it physical and shape it,” he explained. “Eventually you understand it’s a memory and it can’t hurt you anymore.”

The writing workshop, ‘Operation Homecoming,’ will compliment the already existing art programs at NICoE. These programs are focused on soldiers expressing themselves through making masks, montage creations, and through music programs. The montage above is the creation of a wounded soldier at NICoE. It is the beginning of him expressing his feelings of the experiences he had at war.

“Through our arts program, we’ve been able to measure the impact the arts has had on our troops who have unique and complex health conditions,” said Stocks, who also is commander of Navy Medicine National Capital Area.

At a recent healing art summit at the center a consensus was reached between  military officials, medical and therapy professionals, and wounded soldiers on the importance of art in healing at NICoE. When asked about the summit and the relevancy of art at NICoE Stocks explains,

“The bottom line is creative solutions and innovative thinking are the way forward.”

The times are changing and the importance of art at least in healing is finally being recognized by people that have the influence to make change happen. The NEA has also begun partnerships with the Health and Human Services Department and a dozen more health and research agencies and departments. This will bring a stronger push for more research and funds for the arts and human development. A stepping stone you would think that would eventually bring back the arts to our children in the schools.

Now, to come back  to the soldiers wounded from the devastation of war and their road to healing with writing and other forms or art . The pilot program is a year long at NICoE. Starks explains the next step following Operation Homecoming will be the assessment for the workshops “potential replication at other rehabilitation centers around the country.”

I raise my glass to Starks and Capps for bringing writing and the arts to our soldiers, for acknowledging the importance of creativity for a well being. I ask that we all stand and make a resolution to fight for all people to have the opportunity to create or benefit from others creations. To bring value back to the arts for the development and well being of all people.



7 thoughts on “Healing Soldiers through Writing

  1. I am happy to see some programs addressing the trauma and post traumatic stress soldiers still have to deal with once they are safely home. Writing is very cathartic, and this program sounds highly effective. Thanks for telling us about it. Very valuable work.

  2. This is wonderful and so peaceful and so simple. The music will only be a benefit also! Maybe the arts is what can heal that most mysterious of all, the brain.This sounds progressive and what would be even more progressive is to end war. Period.

  3. Fabulous report, River! I love thi part: The times are changing and the importance of art at least in healing is finally being recognized by people that have the influence to make change happen.


  4. This is an extraordinary program. I finished my Masters Degree by doing a final project with the VA. What I did was organize and bring to our VA an “Operation Homecoming” workshop lead by Andrew Carroll. He is the editor of both books titled “Operation Homecoming.” The second edition being paperback and updated. He is a marvelous man/journalist who among other things edited “Grace Under Fire” and “Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars – WAR LETTERS.” He is superb at what he does, a kind and wonderful man … it was an honor to see him working with soldiers. A true honor.

    I cannot begin to express just how important a program this is. When you are living with trauma within and you keep it locked inside, not allowing it out … healing does not begin. The simple and mere act of writing it out (that which you hold within) quite literally takes some of “it” out of you, beginning the process of healing. You will now have a new and different way of looking at your pain which in turn gives you a new perspective on it and an opportunity to see it differently. I volunteered at the VA for two or so years in the creative writing program.

  5. Those soldiers must feel so disconnected from those around them. What better way of reconnecting than to put the content of their hearts on paper for others to share the intense emotions that evolve from war. Kudos, River, for finding this.

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