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Veterans use art to help cope with PTSD at Bay Pines VA Hospital

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 13, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Dozens of local veterans are using art as medicine to cope with post traumatic stress disorder and injuries. Thursday, several veterans put their art and talents on display for the community at the Bay Pines Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Pinellas County.

The veterans tell Abc Action News they hope their stories inspire other struggling vets to tap into their creative side and reach out for help.

PHOTO: Veterans use art as medicine at Bay Pines VA Hospital

Rebecca Heissler and Bruce Reid vividly remember coming back from serving our country and feeling like they were at the bottom of a dark pit. Reid dealt with PTSD after serving in the Army, which he says often made him want to be in solitude. Heissler dealt with medical issues shortly after returning from her duties in the Air Force. Both, turned to music which they say gave them a reason to thrive again.

“It kind of puts your mind in a different place to where you’re not focusing on the bad things or the pain,” Heissler explained.

“It’s helped to put my life back on a good path,” Reid chimed in.

Music Therapist Erin Todd has played a key role in many veterans' recoveries. “It’s just amazing to see that transformation that their art allows them to have,” she explained. “The arts give a back door approach to get to veterans to talk about or work out their feelings, emotions and experiences.”

Todd watches every day as veterans too timid to share their grief come forward.

“For me, it brought hope and helped me to go on with my creativity and helped me become whole again,” Heissler explained.

Across the country, 17 veterans commit suicide every day. More than 6,000 commit suicide every year, according to the VA. Yet, studies show art therapy programs are making a difference.

Ginger MacConnell, an army veteran, chooses to paint and knit. She says the VA's art therapy programs have helped her reach stability physically and mentally. “Just knowing that they’re here is so comforting.”

Reid hopes his creative discovery will encourage other veterans to get help.

“It breaks my heart when I see homeless veterans on the street. They need help, and if someone would just show them the way, it would be so good,” Reid said fighting back tears.

Later this year, and for the very first time, the Bay Pines VA will host a national Veterans Creative Arts Festival, bringing in hundreds of vets and their masterpieces from around the country. The festival is set to begin November 28 and end December 5.