Dealing with the stress and other serious ailments that can follow veterans home from active duty is one of the most important responsibilities we have as a society. Military members put their lives on the line to perform important tasks, and it's unacceptable to abandon them after their time in the service is done. Programs that can provide aid and comfort are numerous and take many surprising forms. Not all therapeutic measures have to be carried out in a clinical setting: Around the country, there are groups using art and performance as ways to help veterans get more out of life.

Ancient theater texts remain relevant
The New Yorker recently profiled Theater of War, a group that has been touring since 2008, using classic Greek drama to reach out to veterans, with a special emphasis on those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or other afflictions. Sophocles' tragedies, written millennia ago, hold a rare relevance for today's military members. Hundreds of shows have taken place, some for active duty personnel and others for veterans. Venues range from military bases around the world to a veteran-focused homeless shelter on Long Island.

"Vets find the courage to speak about the difficulties they have endured."

According to the magazine, discussions with the audiences after the performances have shown just how deeply individuals have been moved by the works. Vets find the courage to speak about the difficulties they have endured, even if the memories and emotions are hard to address. Actor David Strathairn recalled an instance in which an audience member handed the cast a note stating that seeing the performance had helped him deal with suicidal thoughts, literally saving his life.

Director Bryan Doerries, founder of Theater of War, explained he has many high-profile actors on call to read parts in the plays. They serve on a volunteer basis and include such Hollywood mainstays as Jesse Eisenberg, Frances McDormand, Martin Sheen and Paul Giamatti.

Art and music become transformative experiences
While simply engaging with art can have powerful therapeutic effects, there is something to be said for arts programs that seek to teach veterans to create their own works rather than audience members. The San Diego Union-Tribune recently spotlighted instruction events and classes designed with military members in mind. The Veterans Initiative in the Arts, a California Arts Council program, funds eight such projects. These range from Combat Arts, a Museum of Contemporary Art project that will create a mural in the San Diego community, to a music therapy session called Semper Sounds.

The connecting thread between the visual arts and music programs is that they allow individuals to get a hands-on link to creative work. Sometimes, this represents reclaiming a previous passion, such as when a Semper Sounds member who had suffered severe trauma sang again after years away and used the experience to rebuild her own sense of self-worth.

The concept of using visual art, music and theater as healing tools for veterans in need of attention has shown powerful results in many instances. The huge range of art forms available to such programs means that it's possible to start one anywhere and begin to make a difference.