A television show broadcast in Iowa in 2013 exhibited works created by a group of veterans who have turned their uniforms into art.

Titled the “Combat Paper Project: Iowa," the show featured art created by veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam who participated in workshops hosted by a national non-profit organization called the Combat Paper Project. The program provides therapeutic support through art therapy to encourage soldiers to share their experiences and to promote a broader public discourse about military service. The project, uniting artists, art collectors, universities, therapists and veterans, represents transformation and healing for soldiers while engaging civilians in conversations about war and society in general.

Art Lessons for Veterans

The art used in the Iowa exhibit was created in workshops held during the spring of 2010 with professional artists from the University of Iowa's Center for the Book who trained and guided veterans in the traditional art of paper making. Veterans participated in five-day sessions to learn basic techniques, pulping methods, and binding procedures. Other creative exercises were also offered, such as writing and group projects, providing veterans with safe and creative outlets for their emotions.

During the ongoing workshops, artists guided soldiers in cutting up their old combat uniforms and grinding them into slurry to form cloth canvases. From there, participants use silkscreen printing to create a variety of war images and military paraphernalia on the paper they created as artistic expressions of sometimes painful and traumatic experiences.

Offering workshops and exhibits throughout the world, the project is based in Burlington, Vermont that has produced ongoing national exhibitions since 2007 and permanent collections that are housed in universities all over the United States.

Art as a Release from PTSD

The program serves as an outlet for soldiers struggling with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disabling anxiety disorder stemming from violent or traumatic events. Patients' symptoms vary, though most suffer from extreme fear, nightmares, flashbacks, and physical reactions such as sweating, fast breathing, and a racing heart when faced with reminders of the event. Some withdraw from social interactions, feeling detached and emotionally numb, while others experience angry outbursts and irritability. Such emotions sometimes lead to drug and alcohol abuse, along with problems with relationship and work.

Traditional treatments involve Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an especially effective form of psychotherapy for PTSD that encourages veterans to discuss traumatic experiences and their associated thoughts and feelings. The two most commonly prescribed medications often given in combination with this talk therapy, are Zoloft and Paxil. Both drugs boost neuron transmitters in the brain.

With the country engaged in two foreign wars since 2001, PTSD among soldiers has risen sharply, and related suicides have skyrocketed in recent years. A 2008 RAND Corporation study of previously deployed soldiers from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom revealed a 13.8 percent prevalence of PTSD among the new veterans.

The Combat Paper Project was started by a group of artists, some of whom are veterans themselves, as an artistic and original treatment for soldiers with PTSD. Project leaders ultimately strive to empower veterans to recover and regain control of their lives.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: December 06, 2016