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Veterans Connect with Art in Gainesville & Tampa

RVTRI CAT Veterans Making Music

RVTRI CAT Veterans Making Music

Saturday, February 10, 2018

In March, 2017, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began working with the University of Florida (UF) Center for Arts in Medicine, the Rural Veterans Telerehabilitation Initiative Creative Arts Therapy Initiative (RVTRI CAT), CINDRR, North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System (NF/SGVHS), and the VA Office of Rural Health (ORH) to bring creative arts therapy to Veterans. Muscians, writers, dancers, and artists from the UF Center lead programs at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, Gainesville, FL and at associated community outreach centers. The principal investigator for RVTRI CAT is Dr. Charles Levy, Chief of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at NF/SGVHS. He works closely with Jill Sonke, Director of the UF Center for Arts in Medicine.

Through the national initiative Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, the NEA has been bringing creative arts therapy to Veterans in Florida and to additional sites around the country. About 36% of the Veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System live in rural areas and one of the goals of the RVTRI CAT is to allow these Veterans  access to creative arts therapy no matter how far they live from the closest VA medical center.

Jenny Baxley Lee, a Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist, and Heather Spooner, a Board Certified Arts Therapist, work to bring healing art therapy to Veterans. They use movement as a therapeutic tool and also employ visual arts, creative writing, and music to assist Veterans deal with anxiety, muscle and limb stiffness/inflexibility, and rehabilitation issues.  Often, rehabilitation is a long process for hospitalized patients and the creative arts help patients understand their bodies as they work with their medical team to improve their health. To overcome the obstacles confronting rural Veterans, the RVTRI CAT team presents therapy sessions with Veterans over a secure, encrypted video connection available in a community based outpatient clinic (CBOC) location or the Veteran's home.  one of the challenges of the Telehealth program has been adapting their practices to be completed using clinical video telehealth. While most patients have available computers in their homes, ORH funding allows the VA to provide a tablet for those who might need it.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, FL, the National Endowment for the Arts has partnered with the Department of Defense, VA, and state arts agencies as Creative Forces, to bring creative arts to active duty patients and Veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their families and caregivers. The collaboration kicked off at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. James A. Haley (JAHVH) is one of 11 medical treatment facilities, and the only VA so far, to take part in the network.

After announcing her initiative “Art Therapy: Healing with HeART” at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL,  second lady Karen Pence visited James A. Haley in October 2017 to see the program in action and speak with some of the Veterans participating in it. Pence, a trained watercolorist and longtime advocate for art therapy, was in Tampa attending the Creative Forces Summit.  The Summit brought together the military and arts communities to discuss strategies to increase access to therapeutic arts activities for the military and their families. In addition to being second lady, Mrs. Pence is the mother of a Marine and aware of the reintegration challenges that service personnel and their families face, in adition to the health issues that returning personnel confront. During her time at JAHVH, Mrs. Pence talked with both Veterans undergoing arts therapy and some of the therapists who provide it.  Mrs. Pence was pleased to tour the new clinic, meet the staff, and observe a recreational therapy art class during her visit. The JAHVH Chronic Pain Program class meets weekly; participants work on leathercraft, stained glass, woodworking, and copper foil to alleviate pain. Music therapy is also available to help patients reduce stress, manage anxiety, manage pain to help reach personal and therapist-asisted rehabilitation goals.

For more information about the UF Center for Arts in Medicine,

For more information about Creatives Forces, visit











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