Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Home Away From Home
Vietnam Veteran Thrives at Adult Day Health Center, Discovers Love for Art
In 1968, Oklahoma native Melvin Barnes was 19 years old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army for a period of two years.
After completing basic training, the Army sent Barnes to Virginia to learn how to perform maintenance on Army helicopters. Then Barnes deployed to Vietnam with the 180th Assault Support Helicopter Company where he served for more than a year during 1969 to 1970.
Along with repairing helicopters and pulling guard duty at his base, Barnes went on combat missions to retrieve helicopters that crashed or were shot down by enemy fire.
“One time, we had to go up to Hamburger Hill and that wasn’t a good sight there,” he said. “We had bad days of course and we got hit a couple times.”
Even though he didn’t join the Army voluntarily, he is proud of his service in Vietnam.
“I’m proud to serve my country,” said Barnes, who is now 65 years old. “I would have re-enlisted but I knew what would happen. They probably would have kept me there another year in Vietnam. Then I came back to the states.”
For years, the war didn’t affect Barnes. He made Bartlesville his home and worked at REDA Pump for 35 years in a foundry and eventually retired at the age of 55.
But memories of the war resurfaced. In Vietnam, Barnes experienced the deaths of fellow soldiers, including a friend who took his own life 15 days before he was set to return to the states.
“He couldn’t take it and went and shot himself,” he said.
More than eight years ago, he began attending appointments and group sessions at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center’s Behavioral Medicine Clinic in Tulsa and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
During his treatment, Barnes also learned about VA’s Adult Day Health Care Program, which provides funding for eligible Veterans to attend a private facility in the local community where they can participate in social activities and receive peer support and companionship.
With the help of VA, Barnes enrolled at Day Break eight years ago, an Adult Day Health Center in Bartlesville, and attends Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
At the health center, he participates in group activities, fitness and art classes, and has nutritional meals.
When he began attending the art classes, he quickly discovered a passion for art.
“When I got here about eight years ago, I didn’t know how to paint, nothing,” said Barnes. “I knew how to draw a little bit. But I didn’t know how to paint and the art teachers here helped me.”
He immersed himself into art projects such as woodworking, ceramics and paintings.
“Mostly, I paint ceramics,” he said. “I love to paint ceramics. I like to draw horses and cows, stuff like that. Sometime I might draw a scene.”
He has won several awards for his work including first place multiple times at the Washington County Fair. His journey from new artist to award winning artist has impressed the Day Break staff.
“When he came in here, he was like ‘I don’t think I can do art at all,’” said Leah Alexander, Day Break Social Activities Coordinator. “His woodworking is just amazing. His eye for detail and color and how to blend things is just amazing.”
In February 2013, Barnes was ready for a new challenge and decided to build a miniature town out of wood. It took him five months to complete the four foot by eight foot town, which includes houses, a school, church, jail house, gas station and city park.
“It just came to my mind, ‘hey I’m going to build a town,’” he said. “It took me a long time, but I enjoyed it.”
While the time he spends creating artwork at Day Break is an enjoyable experience, it also helps him cope with the memories of war and his PTSD symptoms.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “Here, you don’t think hardly about anything. You’re kind of in a different world. There’s no pressure. There are a lot of other Veterans here and it’s helped them too.”
Alexander said she has seen a remarkable transformation for Barnes since he began attending the health center.
“Melvin has actually come a long way,” she said. “He’s come out of his shell. He’s more willing and open to talk. He shares a lot more and he seems happier. I’ve seen a huge improvement from someone who would just sit there quietly to someone who will get up and dance in front of the group now and sing. It’s really been a blessing to him.”
When Barnes is feeling down, he often speaks with Alexander.
“I love listening to his stories,” said Alexander. “He’s the kind of person you just want to be around. He makes you feel good. Even though he may be having a bad day, he always tries to lift other people up. He’s very caring.”
Home and Community Based Services
The Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center provides contract services for eligible Veterans at four Adult day Health Care facilities and 15 nursing homes in Eastern Oklahoma.
Adult Day Health Care is a program Veterans can go to during the day for social activities, peer support, companionship, and recreation.
The program is for Veterans who need skilled services, case management and assistance with activities of daily living (e.g., bathing and getting dressed) or instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., fixing meals and taking medicines); are isolated or their caregiver is experiencing burden. Adult Day Health Care can be used in combination with other Home and Community Based Services.
Services such as nursing care, therapists, social workers, and others may also be available.
Adult Day Health Care can provide respite care for a family caregiver and can also help Veterans and their caregiver gain skills to manage the Veteran's care at home.
To learn more about VA Home and Community Based Services, Veterans and their family members can speak to a VA social worker or call Jan Gentry, JCMVAMC Community Care Coordinator, at 918-441-0983.