Expressive arts key to therapy for Lovell FHCC patients
Vietnam Veteran, musician and philanthropist Kimo Williams is known by most as the originator, and a member, of the “Lt. Dan Band,” but his latest stop at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center wasn’t to perform. Instead, Williams and his wife, Carol Williams, got to stand in the audience and listen to performances by members of the FHCC PTSD program’s Friday Relaxation Therapy group. The “expressive arts” performances and art displays were part of an event this spring to recognize a donation from the couple’s United States Veterans Art Program (USVAP). On behalf of USVAP, the Williams’ presented FHCC Deputy Director Navy Capt. David Beardsley with a Yamaha digital piano for use by Veterans being treated for PTSD.
“I come to you as a Veteran in uniform,” Beardsley said. “My grandfather served in World War I. My father served in World War II. I’m a Veteran of the latest conflict … Making the transition between military service and Veteran status a smooth one – that’s one of the hopes of Lovell FHCC.” Beardsley, who plays piano, acknowledged that participating in expressive art – especially in public – can be a challenge for Veteran patients. “You’re taking a chance when you play the keyboard or the guitar. Art is a form of communication. “Just remember that your service was honorable and don’t let that go,” he said before turning over the microphone.
Dr. John Bair, clinical psychologist in the FHCC’s Mental Health and Stress Disorders Program, praised the work of USVAP and Kimo and Carol Williams and thanked them for their ongoing support of the FHCC, which has included benefit musical performances and donations of other “artistic tools.” “This is an exciting day for us,” Bair said. “We have a room full of Veterans who we cherish and honor … We’re really doing some creative things here. Kimo and Carol are both outstanding contributors. This places us well ahead with creative arts to treat PTSD.”
Kimo Williams said he picked up a guitar in Vietnam and “found the power of art.” Later, after his service ended, he started thinking about fellow soldiers who lost limbs and were injured in other ways. Some of them he knew formerly played and “just needed a guitar,” or another instrument, to get started again. “I talked to Carol and we decided we needed to do something,“ he said.
Carol Williams, a nurse and Army Veteran, plays piano, flute and saxophone and also is a song-writer. Because Kimo Williams served at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, the Great Lakes area was the first place they came to after starting USVAP. “We try to combine our Veteran status with a passion for art,” Carol Williams said. “It goes beyond any profession, business or academia. Most of us can do it (art) without teaching or coaching, but we’ve forgotten about it. “We’ve found recreational therapy expressive arts the best way to get a message across,” said Carol Williams, who also has her own talk show on cable TV, where she regularly interviews local Veteran artists and performers.
Vietnam Veteran Rick Simmons, a member of the Friday therapy group, was one of the performers at the event “You wake up one day, and you’re tired of it, tired of yelling at people,” said Simmons after he took the stage. “You want to start healing.” Simmons plays Native American music. He said he makes the drums and flutes he plays, and paints them, “as part of my healing.”
Several Veterans stepped up to play instruments and read poetry at the event. Other Veterans displayed their artwork and cheered on fellow Veterans on stage. Many of the audience members and performers knew each other from the Friday therapy group. One of the regular attendees of the Friday group quietly painted on the sidelines, just like he has every Friday for more than a decade. Rick Beauvais said he finishes a complete piece every group meeting and then donates it to a fellow combat Veteran. He estimated he’s given away more than 300 paintings. “I have such endearing respect for these combat guys,” said Beauvais, who was shot down in Vietnam. “I want to say thank you.”
“This means a lot to me,” said Majewski, who is an Army Veteran of two tours in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne. “I’ve always been eternally grateful to Vietnam Vets. I really can’t put it into words.” Majewski and Beauvais know each other from the Wednesday PTSD support group at Lovell FHCC. Majewski said he had a prominent place picked out in his living room for Beauvais’ generous gift. Majewski also credited Dr. Bair with arranging for him to get Buster, who he said helps him keep his balance and avoid frequent falls.
Bair promised Kimo and Carol Williams Veteran musicians receiving treatment and therapy for PTSD and similar disorders at FHCC will put the donated keyboard to good use. Carol Williams pointed out that it comes with a stand, headphones for privacy, and a dust cover. “And I’m hoping the dust cover will never get used,” she said.