“What’s bad for your heart is good for your art.”

Perhaps no one understands this truth better than Veterans, many of whom endure pain of all types. It’s also true for many that creating something out of that pain promotes healing – so much so that the National Endowment of the Arts has partnered with the Department of Defense, VA and state arts agencies. Aptly named Creative Forces is bringing the restorative power of art to active duty patients and Veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders, as well as their families and caregivers.

The one-of-a-kind collaboration is kicking off at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, bringing creative arts therapy to an already robust suite of therapies available to patients. James A. Haley is one of 11 medical treatment facilities, and the only VA so far, to take part in the network.

On the heels of announcing her initiative “Art Therapy: Healing with HeART” at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 18, second lady Karen Pence visited James A. Haley this week to see it for herself.

The Creative Forces program is in its infancy in Tampa, with therapists less than a month on board and the official memorandum of understanding awaiting signature. But Pence was nonetheless excited to see the new clinic, meet the staff and observe one of the existing recreational therapy art classes during her visit. The Chronic Pain Program class meets Monday through Thursday as participants work on leathercraft, stained glass, woodworking and copper foil to alleviate pain without the use of opioids.

Karen Pence visits with patients at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

Karen Pence visits with patients at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital participating in the Creative Forces partnership.

She also met with Staff Sgt. Jose Pequeno, a TBI patient treated at Haley after his injury from a grenade blast while serving in Iraq in 2006, and his mother, Nellie Bagley. They sent her home with some of the paintings he created with the help of a therapist.

“Meeting him was the highlight of my day!!” she tweeted.

Pence, a trained watercolorist and longtime advocate for art therapy, was in Tampa attending the Creative Forces Summit at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the where the military and arts communities came together to discuss strategies to increase access to therapeutic arts activities for military personnel and their families in local communities. As the mother of a Marine, she is attuned to the unique struggles members of the military and their families face, and how art therapy can change and even save lives.

At Tampa’s VA, Merrilee Jorn, creative arts therapist, will provide art therapy sessions to patients to achieve awareness of self and others, facilitate adjustment, reduce stress, manage anxiety, regulate emotions, and develop skill sets for use outside of the creative arts therapy session.

Natalie Quintana, a music therapist, will use music sessions to reach a therapeutic or rehabilitative goal with patients. Music therapy benefits patients by tapping into emotions, creating neurologic associations, improving social interaction and more.

For more information about Creatives Forces, visit https://www.arts.gov/partnerships/creative-forces.

About the author: Shayna Rodriguez a public affairs specialist for James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, where she manages stakeholder relations. She joined the VA in July 2016 and previously worked for the Army as a writer and public affairs specialist. Shayna holds a journalism degree from the University of Florida.

Share this story

Published on Oct. 26, 2017

Estimated reading time is 2.9 min.

Views to date: 202


  1. Justin Dancing Hawk October 29, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    This is wonderful! As a member of the Columbus, Ohio Veteran’s Arts Council, I know our Council is keenly interested in this program. I hope you will contact us & keep us in the loop as this program progresses. Thank you!

  2. Lawrence W Heyliger October 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    I’ve lived with severe PTSD for many years. I’m a Combat Veteran that served in the Dominican Republic Rebellion and Vietnam.
    What I did and still do that kept me from going over the Edge was to seek the Lord God Almighty creator of heaven and earth for myself. And I did it alone with all honesty. Being myself not holding anything back. God answered me personally and it made me realize God who I left home at 17years of age to serve, God and Country was Real and I can have a personal relationship with him.
    I also Read my Bible daily to learn more about God Almighty. To keep and get my mind off the pass I took on with the Lord God’s guidance a hobby a good size hobby. It took about 10 years to complete but the Lord kept me at it. My challenge was a 23′ Cabin Cruiser that needed to be refurbished and with very little money. Most of the work the Lord and I did ourselves. And finding the money was part of it.Gof did not make it easy for us and that was every hard to live with but God wouldn’t let me give it up.

  3. John Gilbride Jr. October 27, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Why are you only offering painting at one facility? I live in Cape Coral Florida 33909 and have seen NOTHING to REALLY help veterans!! Painting would be a nice start.

    However, I was one of those veterans that was spit at while in my Air Force Uniform … while changing airplanes in St. Louis …. WELCOME HOME VIETNAM VETRAN!!! “Thank you for your service, “NOW” means absolutely nothing to me! My country called and I answered … not like those who went to Canada or Sweden.

    Yes, I stand when I hear the National Anthem!

    John N. Gilbride

  4. AngEB October 27, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I worked for an entire year to creat the Veterans Art Organization & I made a non profit organization that no one in California wanted to support. I went to Governor Brown at the time for help & he told me seek help else where. I gave my VA therapist a copy seeking help & did not none. And now there is a Creative force Healing Arts for the Vets & family members & I am unemployed…Wow! Enjoy my program.

    • wendi smith November 1, 2017 at 9:43 am

      Don’t give up your dream, share your talent to help others. If you are now unemployed, hope you are getting out there knocking on doors. VA homes and hospitals, nursing homes, rehabs and senior centers I’m sure would welcome your healing talent.
      Craig Todd, MnemeTherapist and I am a members of the Art Without Boundaries Assoc. Craig paints with the Vets at James A Haley Veteran’s Hosp. I work/paint with the residents at the Douglas T. Jacobson Veteran’s Home in Pt. Charlotte, FL. It is the most rewarding job I have ever had. To learn more, visit http://www.artwithoutboundaries.one or my own little website, http://www.wendicsmithart.com.

      Wendi Smith

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • Chronic pain interferes with women Veterans’ daily lives. Talk to your VA provider about an individualized pain management plan.

  • October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month (CSAM), and it’s time to remember that cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility.

  • Do you have “text neck?” or pain in your head and neck? This acupressure for head and neck pain can help.