BETHESDA, MD (WUSA9) - Congress appropriated nearly two million dollars to expand a military arts program that's helping our wounded warriors heal one brush-stroke or guitar strum at a time.
The expansion program is called, Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.
Tuesday, Military and program leaders celebrated the announcement at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
For the past five years, doctors have been working with the healing arts program there and at Fort Belvoir in Va. Now, the program stretch coast to coast but first, a Virginia Veteran opens up about how painting mask, something that’s supposed to cover, actually helped open him up.
"It's freedom. Now that you've got what's going on up there, you've got it out of your brain essentially. You put it down in front of you for others to see or just for yourself. So it gives you that freedom to continue to move on,” said former Navy Seal 10 member, Rusty Noesner.
Noesner described making a two-sided mask to show the difficulty he experience transitioning from a Navy Seal to civilian life.
In Harrisonburg, Va., Noesner came to Walter Reed's National Intrepid Center of Excellence after suffering a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, from a rocket firing at his team. There was also helicopter fall during his serve in Afghanistan from 2010-2011.
There's more physical TBI's and then what Noesner had, which is called the silent epidemic.
"Symptoms range from, anywhere from anxiety to depression to just confusion,” he said.
It was recommended he go to the NICoE building where the Department of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts, starting using paint brushes, glass blowing and steel-work, even instruments as therapy. They named the partnership, the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.
"It doesn't have to be talked about. It's just there for you. You put it down and then it's there for everybody to look at,” said the former Navy Seal.
Noesner went on to say, “… you are still very proud of your service and you've done great things and you're very proud of it but at a certain point, you have to move forward as a human being. You have to start to erode the identity that you have so sacred for yourself and you have to start moving forward and art's a great way to begin those new avenues."
Noesner says he didn't want to do art when he first got there. Now, he's painting, doing photography and even started his own non-profit that's supposed to sell this artwork so he and other veterans can continue with their art work or photography.
The arts program expansion means the NEA Military Healing Art Network will be at least 10 additional locations, from Alaska to North Carolina by 2017.
Since 2000, the DoD says more 350,000 service members have been diagnosed with a TBI. Thousands have died, many more are still recovering. For more information on the program, click here.
To see Noesner’s non-profit work, click here.