Art is Therapy for Veterans - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System


Art is Therapy for Veterans

Veteran with artwork

Lt. Col. Lucille Dickinson (Ret.), U.S. Army, poses with a walking cane on Feb. 12.

By Nathan Schaeffer, Public Affairs Specialist
Monday, March 5, 2018

Every year during January and February, VA medical centers nationwide host a local creative arts competition for enrolled Veterans. Through a national judging process, first, second and third place entries in each category are determined.

Select first place winners from the national competition will then be invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival October 29 – November 5, 2018, hosted this year by VA Central Iowa Health Care System in Des Moines, Iowa.

On Feb. 12, the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center held our local competition and invited the public to view the artwork of our Veteran artists.

Keep reading to learn how art has helped three Oklahoma Veterans…

“You kind of forget everything else going on"

In late January, Lt. Col. Lucille Dickinson (Ret.) had hip replacement surgery at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center and recovered in the Inpatient Rehab Unit.

As an inpatient, she met Deborah Moreno, a VA Recreation Therapist and Creative Arts Program Manager, who invited Dickinson to participate in the 2018 Creative Arts Competition.

Dickinson enjoys woodworking, one of 151 categories in the competition, and decided to take Moreno up on the offer.

"I have been working on walking canes for me and my husband and decided to enter one,” said Dickinson, who served three years on active duty and 25 years in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Dickinson said it took her more than 30 hours to carve the walking stick.

“You have to work with the wood and individual characteristics, color and textures,” she said. “It takes quite a bit, between preparing the wood and then deciding what you want for design.”

For Dickinson, it’s time well spent.

“When you're working on them, your mind is nowhere else but right there,” she said. “You kind of forget everything else going on. It kind of gets me out of my mindset where I'm handicapped and not doing so well. It gets me active."

She hopes she will get the opportunity to go to Iowa for the national festival.

"I’d love to go and see what everyone else is working on,” she said. “That would be really interesting."

“I started writing when I was 16.”

Veteran with artwork

Army Veteran James McIntosh (center), poses for a photo with Deborah Moreno, Creative Arts Program Manager, and Ty Faglie, Recreation Therapy Intern on Feb. 12 at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center during the annual creative arts competition.

Army Veteran James McIntosh entered two poems in the 2018 competition and enjoys writing about normal, everyday life.

“I have written a lot of poems about whatever inspires me,” said McIntosh, who served during 1973 to 1976, which included a tour in Korea. “I enjoy writing about my friends and experiences, regardless of what those are. Sometimes something will just come to me and I'll write a line down and then a year later I'll go back and finish it up.”

McIntosh read about the Creative Arts Competition in Green Country Veteran, our quarterly magazine for Veterans, and decided to enter the following year.

"I read about this three years ago and saw that it was for Veterans,” said McIntosh, a Cherokee Native American. “I hadn't seen that before, as far as an art competition, or even writing, (that was) strictly for Veterans."
For McIntosh, writing is therapy.

“I started writing when I was 16,” he said. “I am 65 now. I have written a lot about my mother and my Veteran friends that have passed away. I have written about some of my artist friends that have inspired me. I have written about nature. It’s very therapeutic.”

The Art of Fellowship

Veteran with artwork

Navy Veteran Serena Morrow poses with an oil painting on Feb. 12. She called her entry “Dad’s Picture”.

Navy Veteran Serena Morrow, who has participated in the creative arts competition for three years, entered an oil painting in this year’s competition.

She would love the opportunity to go to Iowa to the national festival.

“Well, of course,” said Morrow, during the art festival on Feb. 12. “There's always a possibility of learning and checking out other artists and just participating.”

But for Morrow, art is not simply about competing. Every Monday, for more than four years, Morrow has attended the Open Art Studio, held in the medical center auditorium from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m.

It is during the Open Art Studio where she learns the healing art of fellowship.

“I look forward to my art group therapy every week,” she said. “I never miss. It gives me ways to express things I don't usually have words for. It's cathartic, and (there is) also the fellowship with the other Veterans in our group. We talk. We can help one another. We can listen and console.”

Moreno, who facilitates the recreation group, encourages other Veterans to attend the Open Art Studio, no matter their artistic skill level or talent.

“The Open Art Studio is a time when they can come and visit with other Veterans, share their experiences and their interests in the areas of the arts,” said Moreno. “We have people who like playing music, who like to draw and paint, and like to build and work with their hands. It’s a very therapeutic experience for them, and allows them to find alternative ways of dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, PTSD and pain.”

Twice a month, the Muskogee Art Guild also attends the Open Art Studio and offers Acrylic Painting lessons to Veterans.

2019 Creative Arts Competition

Did you miss the 2018 competition? We encourage you to start working on your art entry for the 2019 competition!

The competition includes 51 categories in visual arts that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 100 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing.

For registration and competition information, please contact Deborah Moreno at 918-577-4014. To view entry rules, please visit


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