Performing artist and singer Angela Walker once lost her voice to a service-related injury, but you would never know it by listening to her rendition of the classic song “Route 66.”
Walker has always loved music, noting that she was an entertainer, actress, and songwriter before joining the military. Yet, her real desire was to help people; so she joined the U.S. Navy to go to college and become a nurse.
But instead of working in a hospital, Walker found herself as a patient for a significant time during her military career. She had misdiagnosed medical issues. Once Walker got out of the military, she started teaching and became a foster parent.
Later, Walker was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Walker took time off of work and went through a treatment program at her local VA facility.
“There was just something about this PTSD group that was so different than any other doctor appointment or therapy session, because it’s all about creative arts,” she said.
Walker has used creative arts to heal from her visible wounds as well as her invisible ones. As a result of a stroke a few years ago, she lost the ability to do simple things such as speak clearly, and walk. She also suffered memory loss.
“I pretty much had lost everything. You don’t know what it’s like not being able to do your job, run your house, count your money. When you don’t know how to do those things, it’s really devastating,” Walker said.
She decided to spend her time volunteering with other veterans at her local VA facility. There, she sang using a karaoke machine to help her recall song lyrics.
“I was helping myself because I had to read, sing and talk to people. That interaction and doing the arts really helped me. For me, as well as for a lot of other veterans, the creative arts help us to heal and to feel things again,” Walker noted.
Her music therapist at the time encouraged her to enter a creative arts competition at the local VA facility that year — and she won. The win boosted Walker’s self-esteem and encouraged her to keep singing. That was more than 20 years ago, and Walker has attended the annual National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) four times since then. In 2016, she won a gold medal in the Vocal Solo Jazz/Rhythm & Blues category in the music division.
NVCAF provides an atmosphere that many veterans struggling with physical and mental health disabilities can’t find elsewhere. “There is a unity and a bond, and you feel like you can trust the people you’re with. You feel very comfortable,” Walker explained.
Walker said she realizes she is helping people now in ways she never could have anticipated: “It’s my destiny to be here. It’s very evident to me that God has allowed me to continue to sing in spite of everything else.”
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.
To learn more about the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, visit http://www.ALAforVeterans.org/NVCAF. To see local news coverage of the 2016 NVACF held in Jackson, Miss., visit http://bit.ly/NVCAFNews1 and http://bit.ly/NVCAFNews2.