Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network

Frequently Asked Questions

Closeup of a man hammering a red-hot strip of of metal

Photo by Jeremy Todd/NEA

What is Creative Forces?

Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the state and local arts agencies that serves the special needs of military patients and veterans with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions, as well as their families and caregivers.

Read more about the three components of Creative Forces—clinical, community, and capacity—in the About section.

Who does Creative Forces reach?

In clinical settings, clinical creative arts therapists work with military patients and veterans with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions. Creative Forces creative arts therapists deliver an estimated 1,000 treatment sessions per year, reaching about 200 new patients every year. Typically, a patient treated by a Creative Forces creative arts therapist has multiple sessions to ensure therapeutic goals are attained.

Around the Creative Forces clinical sites, the NEA is creating a community-based arts network to promote wellness and quality of life for military and veteran families through the arts.

Why the focus on creative arts therapies?

There is a growing need in our country to address TBI and PTSD. More than 500,000 men and women of our armed services are living with TBI or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including 10-20% of all service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. TBI and PTSD are known to contribute to depression, and to the estimated 20 suicides committed by veterans each day.

Participation in creative arts therapies or in community arts programs can help reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and increase positive emotions. In clinical and community settings, credentialed professionals, artists-in-residence, and other artists can help people improve their emotional, psychological, and physical well-being.

What is the feedback from patients and doctors on whether Creative Forces is beneficial?

Creative arts therapies increase patient engagement across all health interventions and are seen as critical by all members of the interdisciplinary care team because they help patients and their providers gain a clearer understanding of the conditions they are struggling to address—making these “invisible wounds” more visible. Patients also acknowledge improvement in sleep, memory, pain, cognitive function, and the ability to confront emotional challenges. Family members who engage in creative arts therapies express similar benefits as well. Creative arts therapies are non-invasive and cost-effective medical treatments.

In a survey at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda:

  • 85 percent of military patients said art therapy was helpful to their healing
  • military patients consistently rated art therapy among the top four treatments out of more than 40 health interventions offered

Program evaluation of the music therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda showed:

  • 79 percent of military patients who attended one music therapy group requested follow-up music therapy sessions (group/family/spousal)
  • Military patients endorsed that participation in music therapy sessions assisted with learning how to use instrument-playing as a positive alternative coping skill, understanding the ability of active music-making as a means to connect with others 

For first person accounts from service members who have participated in creative arts therapies, read the Veterans’ Voices found here.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth programs utilize many forms of remote communication within a healthcare setting, including videoconferencing, secure text messaging, streaming media, and digital correspondence.  Benefits of offering telehealth services include reduction in health disparities by improving access to comprehensive care independent of local resources, cost savings related to elimination of transportation costs and improved military readiness through reduction in time lost from work and occupational training. 

Through the Creative Forces program, the NEA is working with the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, and their Rural Veterans TeleRehabilitation Initiative, as well as the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine. This collaboration provides creative arts therapies to patients in rural and remote areas of North Florida and South Georgia. Creative Forces is also implementing a similar program in Alaska, allowing patients from Basset Army Community Hospital in Fairbanks to receive creative arts therapies from providers working at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

What is the role of Creative Forces outside of the clinical settings?

Around the Creative Forces clinical sites, the NEA is creating a community-based arts network to provide increased arts opportunities for military service members, veterans and their families and caregivers. These networks will extend support for current and former creative arts therapies patients and their families as they transition from treatment in a clinical setting to arts programming in their community. Read more in the community network section of the website.

Why is it important for there to be arts engagement opportunities outside of the clinical setting?

Community-based arts programs can help current and former patients continue to benefit from the arts beyond the clinical setting, so that arts practice can continue to be incorporated into daily life after clinical treatment concludes. These programs are also a way of engaging family members of active duty military and veterans who are being treated in a clinical program, as well as other military and veteran populations living in the community who would like to participate.

Community-based arts programming, usually led by an artist-in-residence or another type of arts provider, is intended to be recreational, with therapeutic benefits. But it is not therapy. Creative arts therapies can only be provided by nationally credentialed and/or Board Certified creative arts therapists (art therapists, dance/movement therapists, drama therapists, music therapists, poetry therapists, psychodramatists)—clinicians who possess the training and qualifications required to practice their respective profession. For further information about the creative arts therapies, please visit the website for the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations.  

What is the NEA’s contribution to Creative Forces?

The National Endowment for the Arts’ support of Creative Forces includes funding for creative arts therapists as well as equipment and supplies at each of the clinical sites, a telehealth program, research studies, an online National Resource Center, and demonstration projects associated with each Creative Forces clinic.

The Department of Defense provides the treatment space, patient referrals, collaboration on clinical care, and support for additional creative arts therapists coordinating consistent delivery of care across the Creative Forces Network, and is a partner on research associated with Creative Forces.

What is the NEA’s partnership history with the Department of Defense?

The NEA's partnership with the Department of Defense dates back to 2004 when Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience was created by the NEA to help U.S. troops and their families write about their wartime experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and stateside.

From 2004-2006, Operation Homecoming provided more than 60 writing workshops to troops and their families at more than 30 military installations in the U.S. and overseas, from Camp Pendleton in California to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Workshop leaders included distinguished authors, including Tom Clancy, and Bobbie Ann Mason. A later phase brought writing workshops to veterans and active duty troops at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, military hospitals, and affiliated centers in communities around the country. More than 6,000 people participated in Operation Homecoming workshops and related activities.

In 2011, the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership was launched when the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda invited the NEA to help build out its creative arts therapy program. In 2012, the Operation Homecoming writing workshops became part of the formal medical protocol at NICoE. After successfully piloting the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership there, the NICoE Intrepid Spirit-1 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia invited the NEA to replicate the program in their new integrative care facility. The NICoE’s groundbreaking, interdisciplinary approach to working with patients and their families became the model for the expanded healing arts partnership, which ranges from physical and neurological exams, to family evaluation, nutrition, alternative medicine, and creative arts therapies. The partnership involved support for multiple creative arts therapies (therapeutic writing, art therapy, and music therapy) at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir.

In 2016, the NEA expanded the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership and launched Creative Forces.

Other NEA programs for military have included Blue Star Museums, Great American Voices Military Base Tour, and Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour.