Central Florida Chapter Helps Veterans Heal Through Art

Central Florida Chapter Helps Veterans Heal Through Art
Veterans participate in the art therapy program at the Orlando VA. (Courtesy photo)

By Charlsy Panzino


A member of MOAA's Central Florida Chapter helped create a memorandum of agreement between the chapter and the Orlando VA Healthcare System so veterans can participate in an art therapy program and art exhibits.


“The veteran suicide rate is way too high,” said Lt. Col. Al Schroeder, USAF (Ret), a member of the Central Florida Chapter, adding the Healing Through Expression project is the chapter’s effort to help lower the suicide rate. “Our research found that the arts offer veterans ways to express their feelings and emotions through nonverbal actions.”


The ability to express themselves offers healing in ways that doctors and medications can’t always provide, Schroeder said. The Orlando VA offers several art-related programs to veterans, and the Central Florida Chapter donates art supplies and volunteers to these programs.


The plan under the memorandum is also for the chapter to provide marketing, financial, academic, and business support for artists who complete the VA program and want to continue using art to help them in their healing and recovery, Schroeder said.


“The VA does get some limited art supplies, but we’re paying to get proper supplies,” said Maj. Lorraine Holland, USA (Ret), Central Florida Chapter president, adding the chapter donates acrylic paints, canvas, and different types of kits to put together. The chapter also brings refreshments for the program. A Community Outreach Grant from The MOAA Foundation will go toward paying for these donations.


[RELATED: 42 MOAA Affiliates Receive Grants From The MOAA Foundation]


Until recently, homeless veterans attended the program, but the program is open to any veteran within the VA system. Holland hopes more veterans will participate so they can be considered for the yearly National Veterans Creative Arts Festival hosted by the VA. Each VA center picks the top three entries in various categories and submits them to the national competition. The winners of the national competition will receive a paid trip to the festival in Colorado in the spring of 2024.


Although the chapter can’t contact veterans directly at the VA, Holland said they’re asking the VA to see if any veterans want to be connected with the chapter and display their art in different exhibits around central Florida, including art museums.


“We want to have a showing for both civilians and military so that we can highlight to the civilian community that there’s more to fighting [post-traumatic stress] and depression and suicide with our veterans than traditional therapy,” Holland said. “We’re helping veterans through the arts to express themselves where maybe they verbally cannot express themselves, but on paper, they can tell their story.”


One goal is to work with veterans who want to sell prints of their artwork and then give the money back to the veteran, she said.


Charlsy Panzino is a writer based in Idaho.


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