Operation Homecoming: Serving Those Who Have Served

Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony Mannino performs art therapy as part of his traumatic brain injury treatment and recovery. Photo: DoD/Marvin Lynchard

Operation Homecoming was first created in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help U.S. troops and their families write about their wartime experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and stateside. Operation Homecoming was among several programs the NEA has created to bring quality arts programs to the military, veterans, and their families.

“Time and time again, troops, their families, military and medical professionals tell us that art can make a difference in the quality of life for troops and their families,” said Rear Admiral Alton L. Stocks, commander of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “We are excited to examine those claims through research and practice.”

The NEA expanded its landmark arts partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense in 2012 with music therapy. This expanded Operation Homecoming program integrated music therapy into treatment plans for patients at Walter Reed as well as patients at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE).

The NICoE is a Defense Department institute dedicated to providing cutting-edge evaluation, treatment planning, research, and education for service members and their families dealing with the complex interactions of the signature wounds from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars: traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions. The music therapy component of the NEA’s Operation Homecoming program reflected the growing use of creative arts therapy programs in health care settings.

Both the writing and music therapies complement a visual arts therapy program for patients, and all of the creative art therapies are integrated with the NICoE’s unique array of alternative and conventional clinical treatments for patients.

According to Melissa Walker, a creative arts therapist and the healing arts program coordinator for the NICoE and Walter Reed, the success stories were endless. She told of how one patient, after creating a visual map that symbolized all his struggles, seemed to unlock the door to healing. Issues he had been struggling with for years found their way to expression and healing. She also noted the difference it makes when the art therapist is treated as part of the team of health providers, which is the paradigm used at NICoE.

Former secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius says that there is no higher calling to service members and their families than to give them the full support and care they need to rejoin civilian life in comfort and good health. “Arts have the tools that can help — they calm our nerves, stimulate our minds and lift our spirits. As one example of our work together, Operation Homecoming is providing writing and music therapy to demonstrate how the arts can improve the lives of service men and women suffering from traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.”

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