KILLEEN — “Art therapy is saving lives,” second lady Karen Pence said as she addressed more than 140 local community arts professionals and military behavioral health care specialists who converged at the first Texas Creative Forces Arts and Military Conference held in Killeen, Jan. 29 and 30. 

“The Creative Forces Network plays an important role in forging connections between clinics and communities to develop arts programs for military veterans and Families. Art therapy is a viable treatment option that will help heal the more than 500,000 men and women of our armed forces who are living with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress,” Pence said.

Making the distinction that art therapy is not arts and crafts, Pence told the audience about her experiences with art therapy programs around the world, her observations of recent research data and her first-hand accounts of the many success stories that show art therapy is making a difference in helping people heal.

“I applaud you for coming today because you’ve demonstrated your commitment to help the men and women of our armed forces who have fought to protect us and our freedom,” Pence added. “I look forward to seeing more collaboration between the art communities and the armed forces. It truly is a great thing to take art, and save a life.”

The Creative Forces Military Healing Arts Network is a joint pro-arts initiative between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The network places creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care at 11 military medical facilities across the country – including Fort Hood – as well as a telehealth program to reach patients in rural and remote areas.

Creative Forces focuses on helping military personnel returning from service to reintegrate into their life at home by increasing access to therapeutic arts activities in local communities. The Creative Forces’ Arts summits are designed to support and grow collaborative relationships between local artists, arts organizations and military populations and are scheduled to be held across the entire Creative Forces network throughout the year.

“This event gives us a chance to really showcase the quality of care that we offer our warriors at Fort Hood and the Intrepid Spirit Center. Art therapy is one modality that provides our service members a catharsis in expressing the consequences of war through art, music, yoga and adds to their total treatment regimen to help them return to duty,” Dr. Scot Engel, director of the Fort Hood’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite Center said. “The clinic-to-community concept exposes service members to new things within the Intrepid Spirit Center’s model of care, and then allows them to continue their healing process by using our network of various resources such as poetry, song writing, or glass blowing outside of post.”

Engel explained that oftentimes, service members who come home from theater and are dealing with the consequences of war such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, have to battle the “enemy within” against isolation, marginalization and thoughts of suicide.

“If these service members are able to get out of the bunker and get back into the community with their loved ones, we have a better chance of having them rediscover that sense of purpose, belonging and meaning in their life,” Engel said.

The agenda for the two-day summit included presentations by the Intrepid Spirit Center’s art and music therapists; demonstrations by artists and Creative Forces program participants and panel discussions on the clinical to community concept, military culture and “green suit” conversations.

“It seems like an unlikely partnership – the arts and the military. But what we’re finding is when the common element is the service member and helping them reintegrate, we’re all coming together with a common purpose,” Engel said.