Art can become a saving grace for veterans

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“Honor, Loyalty, and Duty” by Darlene Cathman, Nicholas Columbus, Victoria Ebersold-Bowen, Willie Leonard

First-time National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) participant Deidre Hines is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran of 20 years. Hines’ service included Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

She joined the U.S. Air Force because of a desire to travel — and she did, having multiple overseas assignments during her military career before retiring in 2012. Hines has experienced homelessness, loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and depression, and tried other forms of therapy to treat her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before discovering the creative arts. Her “Anatomy of My Anxiety” artwork – Hines’ entry in the 2016 NVCAF held in Jackson, Miss. – is a visual representation of what she’s experienced over the years.

“We the People” by William Hald

“Art has been a saving grace. It helped me heal. It helped me understand things that I hadn’t been able to understand about myself. It’s a safe place. Art is the only place in my life where I’ve allowed myself to not only make mistakes, but embrace them.”

A self–described “isolator,” Hines was anxious about coming to the festival and leaving herself vulnerable. But the festival provided an opportunity for her to interact with others. It proved to be more of a supportive outlet than she anticipated.

“I’ve been triggered a few times, got emotional and weirded out. I hate that, but what makes it OK at the end of the day is that every single time that I’ve cried or been upset, a veteran has come up to me at some point and just said, ‘me too,’” Hines said. “I think that’s the most powerful thing you can tell anybody with any type of disability or mental illness. It reminds me that I’m not alone.”

Hines, who lives in New Jersey, plans to return to school to study fine art in the near future. Read more of Deidre Hines’ story here.

“A Veteran, Not Homeless” by Willie Weaver-Bey

The 2017 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival will be Oct. 23-30 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Since 2000, the American Legion Auxiliary has been an NVCAF co-sponsor along with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to raising funds for the festival, the American Legion Auxiliary provides volunteers who assist at the event.

Click here to learn more about the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. To see local news coverage of the 2016 NVACF, visit and

This is the second of a five-part blog series, Unspoken Understanding. Read the other posts here: Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.



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