Veterans ease PTSD symptoms with art


by Jennifer Tomazic

MILWAUKEE -- Local veterans are getting treatment for their PTSD with the help of a number of programs at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

For Adam Lewis, healing comes through brush and pen strokes.

"My mind gets to go while my hands do the work," said Lewis.

He's enrolled in the art therapy program at the hospital to help with his PTSD. Since 2002, nearly 3,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been treated at the Milwaukee Veterans Hospital for PTSD.

"I haven't experienced many things that have made me truly happy and I didn't know if I'd find that outside the military," said Lewis.

Until he found art therapy. Lewis was always interested in art but he tried his hand at painting for the first time at the hospital and found that it's one of of the best ways for him to find a sense of normalcy.

He has taken a drawing of Uncle Sam and duplicated it to look like the Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe.

"The second I picked up a paint brush, I immediately felt a feeling of being complete and centered," said Lewis.

After the veterans complete their pictures in class, they share them with the rest of the group. Mark Duran is in the same group as Lewis and most of the pictures he paints depict waves.

"Our emotions are tied in with a lot of PTSD issues and it feels like you're on a wave," said Duran. "It is about to crash in any second and when it does it is a horrible event, but then it goes away as fast as it came."

Duran's art talents span from clay making to painting on an old window from his house. He says working through his emotions through art is his comfort zone and he sees the same thing in the other veterans in the class.

"They get in the art rooms and start creating and people are patting them on the back and saying good job and getting all kinds of confidence and they come out as different people and it's really neat to see," said Duran.

"When they leave, you see a lot of smiles, increased energy, and less isolation. When they come in you see a lot of anger," said Marisa Straub, Lewis and Duran's art therapy teacher.

She works with the veterans for 45 days in the art therapy class to ease the symptoms of PTSD.

"You're not going to walk out of here and be cured, but I think you're symptoms will lessen," said Straub. "You will be able to cope better with them and I think everything will improve."

In the short time she's worked with Duran and Lewis she's seen a difference.

"You can sit and bond and talk and really kind of express yourself and you have a simple understanding without having to speak," said Lewis. "Sometimes people are more comfortable with that and I'm extremely grateful."

Many of the veteran's works of art will be entered into the 2013 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. It is on February 25 at the Matousek Auditorium at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.


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