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Writing Therapy to Foster Wounded Warriors’ Recovery

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, MD., Dec. 15, 2011 – At a major medical center where troops are healing from the most severe of traumatic brain injuries and psychological issues, officials are adding a key ingredient to their comprehensive care: expressive writing workshops.

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Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Commander Navy Rear Adm.(Dr.) Alton L. Stocks announces the Operation Homecoming writing partnership established with the National Endowment of the Arts at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 13, 2011. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Announced Dec. 13 at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center here, the center has partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Operation Homecoming for a yearlong pilot program that’s slated to begin in January, said Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Alton L. Stocks, the medical center’s commander.

"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.

The Operation Homecoming writing instructor will be Ron Capps, a 25-year veteran Army officer and founder of the Veterans Writing Project for veterans, active and reserve military members, and military family members.

At the NICoE, however, Capps’ newest project will focus on service members’ traumatic war experiences. He’ll use “expressive writing” to help them deal with that trauma through writing stories, in journals and even poetry.

Capps’ goal, based on his lengthy military career, is to get the troops to confront their fears and learn to cope with them. A central focus of his writing career includes care for returning veterans, particularly those in need of mental health care, and writing as therapy.

“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.”

Health conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues are now known as the “signature wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, officials said. The NICoE’s healing program is for active-duty service members with these signature wounds who might return to duty.

The writing workshop, as part of the overall healing protocol at NICoE, is expected to complement the center’s existing arts programs, which also encourage troops to express themselves by making masks and montage creations, and through music programs.

When service members leave NICoE treatment, the writing doesn’t necessarily stop there. The partnership, with help from Boeing Co., will offer an optional four-week writing program for troops and their families at the medical center’s Fisher House. Fisher House provides temporary homes to family members so they can stay near their injured or ill loved ones as they recover in the hospital or a rehab center.

“Art is fundamental to health and to humanity,” said Rocco Landsman, NEA chairman, here yesterday.

Landsman said in addition to the NICoE partnership, the NEA has begun a related task force with the Health and Human Services Department.

There, he said, “joint forces of more than a dozen health and research agencies and departments will push for more and better research on the arts and human development.”

Following the 2012 pilot phase, Operation Homecoming at NICoE will be assessed for potential replication at other rehabilitation centers around the country, Stocks said.

Reflecting on a recent healing arts summit at the medical center, Stocks recalled the response of military officials, medical and therapy professionals, and wounded warriors when asked about “the relevancy” of arts in the NICoE program.

"The bottom line is creative solutions and innovative thinking are the way forward," Stocks said of the group consensus.

Contact Author

Biographies:
Navy Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks

Related Sites:
National Intrepid Center of Excellence
National Endowment for the Arts
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center


Click photo for screen-resolution imageA wounded warrior who’s healing at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., designed this montage in the art room of the center to begin expressing his feelings about his experiences while at war. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA service member whose squad mates died during the “Golden Hour” -- the critical time between being injured to getting to a hospital -- designed this mask depicting the sadness that still haunts him at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk.  
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