VA Centers Use Telehealth to Give Vets Access to Creative Arts Therapy
Three VA hospitals around the country will soon be using telehealth to give veterans access to creating arts therapy to deal with neurological and behavioral health issues.
The three hospitals are part of a program developed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health and the National Endowment for the Arts to give rural and remote veterans living with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder a chance to try new rehabilitation treatments through art, music, dance and creative writing.
“Telehealth can be a hugely important tool in connecting rural veterans with the care they need,” Thomas Klobucar, executive director of the VA Office of Rural Health, said in a press release. “Our partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts adds an entirely new dimension of care to our Rural Veterans TeleRehabilitation Initiative (RVTRI), allowing us to treat the whole veteran regardless of where they live.”
The RVTRI program was launched in 2009 to give rural veterans access to rehabilitation programs through telemedicine and mHealth platforms. The program was first developed through the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, using physical, occupational, recreational and speech language therapy, as well as supported learning services. Working with the University of Florida’s Center for Arts and Medicine, the program added creative arts therapy in 2014.
The VA’s Office of Rural Health and the NEA then launched The Creative Forces: NEA Military Arts Healing Network, aimed at taking the creative arts therapy program across the country. The network added music therapy to the program in 2017 and expanded it to Alaska, where patients at Basset Army Community Hospital in Fairbanks were able to receive treatment via a connected health program with providers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
“This Creative Forces expansion is an important part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ efforts to increase access to the arts for all Americans, especially to our veterans and those in rural communities,” Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said in a press release.
Among the first VA centers to use the program was the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, FL.
“There are some indicators that different engagements in arts can lower your blood pressure and can be good for your heart rate,” Dr. Chuck Levy, Chief of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System and the program’s coordinator, told Florida Public Broadcasting Station KBPS in 2018. “I would say that the body of evidence is thinner than it is for other practices. But we need to be doing things now, so off we go.”
Based on that early success, researchers from the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System and the University of Florida released a study in February 2019 in The Arts in Psychotherapy showing how telehealth could be used to improve veterans’ access to creative arts therapy.
The program has now been expanded to the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center Jackson, MS, and VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland. The three VA hospitals are now working with the Veterans Health Administration Office of Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Service and National Program Office of Recreation Therapy Service to establish the telehealth programs.
“This program delivers art therapy services to veterans, especially those in the rural most parts of our state, and opens the door for partnerships with community arts providers to be of service to this important population,” Lewis Ricci, executive director of the Indiana Arts Commission, recently told the Batesville (IN) Herald-Tribune.