The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is the culmination of talent competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music for Veterans treated in the VA national health care system.

Veterans exhibit their artwork and original writings, or perform musical, dance or dramatic selections in a live stage show performance. All Veterans invited to participate are selected winners of year-long, national fine arts talent competitions. Thousands of Veterans enter from VA medical facilities across the nation.

Annual competition recognizes progress and recovery

The festival is co-presented by VA and the American Legion Auxiliary.

VA medical facilities incorporate creative arts into their therapy programs to further the rehabilitation goals for both inpatients and outpatients. This annual competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through that therapy. It also raises the visibility of the creative achievements of our nation’s Veterans.

First place winners of the 2021 competition will be recognized at the 41st National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, April 20 through 24. This year’s event is being hosted by the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.

Art, dance, drama, music therapy

Creative arts therapies in VA are comprised of distinct, professionally trained, credentialed therapists in art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy and music therapy.

Our services offer Veterans comprehensive creative arts therapies using creative modalities and clinical treatment interventions to promote recovery, rehabilitation and wellness. Creative arts therapy treatment objectives target improved cognition and sensorimotor function, emotional resilience, social and coping skills.

Creative arts therapists strive to facilitate Veterans’ engagement in their community. They also provide a sense of achievement and channel energies into productive forms of behavior.

49 VA facilities will be adding creative arts therapies  

Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in a local creative arts competition. The competition includes categories in the visual arts division that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. There are also categories in writing, as well as the performing arts of dance, drama and music.

Local creative arts competition first-place winning entries advance to a national judging process. There, first, second and third place entries in each category are determined. Selected gold medal-winning Veterans are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which is hosted by a different VA facility each year.

Art therapy

Art therapists use art media, the Veteran’s creativity and the resulting artwork to assist Veterans with introspection. That introspection helps reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.

Dance therapy helps Veterans explore emotional and social integration.

Dance and movement therapy

Dance/movement therapists use movement to help Veterans explore their physical, emotional, cognitive and social integration in a therapeutic care setting. Dance/movement therapy provides a means for assessment and mode of intervention through expressive, communicative and adaptive body movement.

Drama therapy

Drama therapists use drama and theater processes to address therapeutic goals by providing a context for Veterans to set goals, express themselves, tell their stories and solve problems. This therapeutic approach can help Veterans actively explore their self-awareness and enhance their interpersonal skills.

Music therapy

Music therapists use clinical music interventions, such as active music listening, singing, playing, creating and improvising through various music modalities to accomplish Veterans’ treatment goals for their physical, emotional, cognitive and social/emotional health and well-being.

Medical conditions

Through education, clinical training, research and practical experience, creative arts therapists treat Veterans with neurological, orthopedic, medical, surgical and mental health conditions.

Programs offer opportunities for functional rehabilitation and recovery via clinical interventions, education, counseling, training and discharge planning with a holistic approach to recovery and community integration.

For more about VA’s Recreation Therapy and Creative Arts Therapy Service, visit

By David Otto is national director of the Recreation Therapy and Creative Arts Therapy Service

Share this story

Published on Apr. 14, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.2 min.

Views to date: 520

More Stories

  • Significant progress has been made toward identifying, preventing, and helping those who experience domestic violence, but there is still work to be done.

  • 2022 VHA Shark Tank competition finalists will present their pitches at the Innovation Experience in October.

  • VA has simplified and streamlined the application process for medical debt relief, allowing Veterans better access. Apply for and receive medical debt relief now.