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Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Hurt Veterans Who Need The Most Support
True story: A man goes to war many times. He loses buddies in battles. Carnage burns into his brain as trauma. His health, quality of life, and ability to fight diminish. Sad, no longer the effective warrior he wants to be, he contemplates suicide. And then he discovers a treatment facility supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. There, one day, he tells me: “Now that I have writing in my life, I don’t want to put a bullet in my head.”
Through that NEA-backed program, called the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, I have worked with more than 1,000 service members like this man. A vet and artist myself, I teach creative writing as part of NICoE’s art-therapy program for active service members who have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Mask by a military service member from art therapy sessions at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.National Museum of Health and Medicine photo
Currently, $2.6 million in yearly support goes to nine NEA-supported creative arts therapists at seven military treatment centers, in addition to supplies, research, and program support. That translates to more than 800 total patient encounters per month, and 500 hours a month of care coordination, program development, research, and community outreach, on average. Like the rest of the NEA — and just like the Marine Corps I served in — those therapists make a lot out of a little money.
I understand the “smaller government is better” fiscal priorities of the current administration. But the president’s proposed budget completely defunds the NEA, and that could mean the end of one the greatest treatment programs that exists for our bravest men and women.
Each week at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a small cohort of service members arrives for their holistic and intense four-week outpatient treatment. These patients include men and women who have survived seven, eight, even nine combat deployments. They are not well, sometimes in very invisible ways. But they love their country and want to get back in the fight, or to walk away proudly at their end of service.
As part of the clinical art therapy program, each service member designs a mask, empowering them to take traumatic, silent, unspeakable horrors they’ve witnessed and give them facial form. They’re able to craft personal mental wounds into something tangible. They’re able to control their memories instead of their memories controlling them.
In a November 2015 TED talk, NICoE art therapist Melissa Walker shared an anecdote about one patient in this course, a fairly high-ranking service member, couldn’t effectively lead, plagued by nightmares of a bloody face he’d seen. Through mask-making, he was able to recreate that face. He was able to stare it down. He was able to look through it, process that trauma, and then get better for himself and those under his charge.
Many other alternative treatments are offered to the service members — music therapy, dance therapy, therapeutic writing, creative writing (the session I help lead) — as part of the patient-centered, “what works for you?” approach. Each week, I tell the service members how writing helped me heal from my own combat stress. We do some creative writing prompts, and, well, this isn’t magic: Not every patient digs the writing part or benefits from it. But those who do can change profoundly.
Department of Defense photo
This is true, patient-centered care at a cutting edge research facility, and arts engagement is a core tenet of the treatment. Science and patient feedback have confirmed the program’s effectiveness; if it stays funded, it’s set to be replicated at 12 centers nationwide. The National Intrepid Center of Excellence clearly isn’t “veterans playing with popsicle sticks,” as a dismissive critic once told me on Twitter.
As the long war enters its 16th year, with new battles on the horizon, I can’t rationalize defunding the NEA and stripping away programs like this, which are using creativity to help our service members heal. The cost-benefit analysis of these cuts doesn’t add up. Why send men and women to war, while depriving them of a proven program that helps them work through the damage that war does to their psyches? What we can save in taxpayer dollars is nothing, next to what we owe these warriors.
Dario DiBattista is the editor of “Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan” He is working on a co-written screenplay about Marine’s homecoming from war. Follow him on Twitter.
Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal officially endorsed Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) for president on July 18. A former Marine infantry officer who deployed to Iraq four times, Moulton joined McChrystal on MSNBC to discuss the endorsement, and whether he's bothered that he hasn't found a spot on the crowded Democratic debates so far.
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"The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very, very near distance – approximately 1,000 yards – ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew," Trump said during a White House ceremony. "The drone was immediately destroyed."
"This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters," he continued. "The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities, our interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait and to work with us in the future."
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AFC commander Gen. John Murray briefed reporters on Thursday alongside Bruce Jette, the Army's Assistant Secretary of Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, on the progress of the Army's modernization roadmap and what's coming down the pipe to help soldiers soldiers win the conflicts of the future.
But while that lawmakers skirted questions on the war in Afghanistan during former Secretary of the Army Mark Esper's confirmation hearing for defense secretary this week, AFC's top priority remains, first and foremost, the soldiers fighting in conflict zones right now.
The official trailer for Top Gun: Maverick is here, and if you were praying to God there would be another volleyball scene, you are in luck.
Slated to hit theaters in 2020, the sequel to 1986 classic features Tom Cruise back in the role of Maverick, only this time he's a Navy captain behind the stick of an F/A-18 Hornet.
The two-minute trailer features a number of throwbacks to the original Top Gun: There's Maverick pulling the cover off his motorcycle and driving down the flight line, a shirtless volleyballer (there was no way you would have escaped this), and a piano-playing scene with Great Balls of Fire, my man.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the film also stars Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, and Ed Harris. The film hits theaters on June 26, 2020.
Watch the trailer below:
Top Gun: Maverick - Official Trailer (2020) - Paramount Pictures www.youtube.com