"This is a nice opportunity for veterans who come to the VA and to the Behavioral Health to show off their artwork,” said Jamie Zewe, assistant chief of Behavioral Health at the Erie VA Hospital. “We have a lot of veterans who are very talented, and so this is a great opportunity to show the community and other veterans their craft.”
The veterans partnered with artists from Erie Arts & Culture for what is an alternative therapeutic method, allowing patients the chance to highlight their military service through a creative medium.
"I saw a hesitancy in the beginning and it sort of burst out toward the end with all of this creativity and they didn't want to stop and it was hard to pull back the reigns at one point,” said Kathe Umlauf, resident artist.
The Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Clinic serves nearly double the amount of patients it did just six years ago, and that makes events like these even more necessary than in the past.
"Veterans that are involved in behavioral health programs that we have, a lot of them are dealing with mental health issues like PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, all of that,” said Sarah Gudgeon, public relations specialist for the Erie VA. “Art gives them a way to escape for a little bit and to focus their energy on something else.”
Veterans also produced photographs and paintings during the mixed media project. Some even showed their skills off of the canvas. The opportunity for veterans to remember the freedom they fought for allowed them to be free while creating their masterpiece.
"They were happy about it and they took initiative in areas they hadn't done before. And they were talking and I thought it was a really healthy environment, and my impression is that there was some healing going on,” Umlauf added.