From October 3 through 28, VA National Center for Ethics in Health Care (NCEHC) will present “Unmasking the Trauma of War,” an exhibit of masks on loan from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), part of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The exhibit is on view to VA employees in the main lobby of VA headquarters in Washington, DC. Thirty-two percent of VA staff are Veterans themselves.
The masks were created by military Service members in a four-week intensive outpatient program at the NICoE. “Participants in the program have a combination of traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions,” said NICoE Healing Arts Program Coordinator and Art Therapist Melissa Walker, MA, ATR, who curated the exhibit. “Making masks gives traumatized service members a visual voice, a way to express themselves without words. They are able to turn their issues and fears into something physical and healing. In turn, this helps make their treatment more effective.” Over one thousand masks have been created since the program began in 2010.
The exhibit grew out of a VA-wide presentation on “Moral Injury and Recovery from the Moral Wounds of War” presented by NCEHC in April 2016, which featured a number of these artworks.
“Addressing moral distress is a major initiative of our program office,” said NCEHC Executive Director Lisa S. Lehmann, MD, PhD. “This exhibit honors those who have fought in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, while at the same time giving us the chance to begin a conversation about moral distress within the health care environment.”
Images of the masks can be seen on the Unmasking War Flickr album.
About the author: Steve Tokar works at National Center for Ethics in Health Care