In 2012 half a million veterans were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether recently returning from the Middle East or carrying memories from service in the military decades ago, PTSD is a very real struggle for many combat veterans.
At Menlo Park, veterans suffering PTSD are exploring photography as a means of coping with their emotional struggles and challenging memories. The Veterans Health Administration in Palo Alto is using this creative therapy to help heal traumatized veterans by running workshops teaching photography techniques. These workshops are designed to help veterans compose pictures to represent their emotions and journeys.
VA nurse Susan Quaglietti, who co-founded this program says:
“Photography gives them a new focus in their recovery. It’s the idea that sometimes it’s easier to communicate with a camera than speak face to face with a therapist.”
So far veterans are showing positive signs of improvement. Vietnam veteran Ramon Ontiveros was struggling to cope with horrific war-time memories which was causing him to consider suicide. Now, the camera lens is allowing him to gain a new perspective and express himself creatively. He says “taking pictures is shouting out what I’ve dealt with.”
Retired Air Force Major, Gail Matthews, has also benefited from the program.“This project gave me a voice for a lot of things I wanted, finally, to express,” said Matthews. “To showcase my time in service I photographed a small, frayed American flag. The worn flag is me as sometimes I feel tiny, torn, and tattered.”
The photographic medium is allowing veterans such as Ontiveros and Matthews to get to the heart of feelings that are too deep, abstract or painful to express in everyday language.