Outreach therapy program for vets indirectly cut by Dunleavy veto

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A community outreach program for veterans has been indirectly cut by one of the governor’s budget vetoes.

Through his line-item veto power, Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA), an agency that manages federal grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

One of the grants managed by ASCA is for Creative Forces, a therapy program that uses the creative arts as an outlet for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and military patients with special needs.

Benjamin Brown, the chairman of ASCA, says the Creative Forces program itself is likely not at risk by the cut. The program is run in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Brown says it should continue providing musical therapy in the Anchorage area.

However, the potential for expansion in Fairbanks has been eliminated by the veto, as was Creative Forces Community Connections, an outreach program funded by a $50,000 federal grant that showcases the work of the vets and military patients in the community.

Michael Orlove, the Director, State, Regional & Local Partnerships, and International Activities from the NEA sent an email to ASCA, explaining that state arts agencies are required to be active partners to receive the grant.

Andrea Noble-Pelant, the executive director of ASCA, said the Creative Forces Community Connections program was a “small experiment that has had dramatic results.”

Sean Young, a combat veteran with the United States Army, participates in Creative Forces and spoke about the impact it has made to him personally. “It’s given me an avenue and an outlet to voice how I feel and my opinions in a structured manner in which I don’t feel I’m being judged,” he said.

Young, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving, said he was initially skeptical of the program as he “thought we were going to sit in a room and talk about our feelings.”

Playing music, collaborating with other veterans and performing in military hospitals has been a revelation for Young. He described playing in the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital in Anchorage and the positive reception from the patients.

“It’s not a thank you of pure gratitude, it’s more a thank you for allowing them to open up,” he said.

Matt Jones, a medically retiring combat veteran with the United States Army, has had a similar experience participating in Creative Forces.

Jones, who suffered from a traumatic brain injury while serving, has suffered from depression, trouble sleeping, and irritability. He too was initially doubtful about how the program would work. “I kind of laughed it off, I was like, ‘there’s no way music is going to fix my brain.’”

After playing music in the program, Jones says he sleeps better and it’s allowed him to express himself creatively through music. “It’s ignited a fire in me to go forth and do things I never thought possible,” he said.

Playing in Creative Forces also allowed Jones to write songs with other vets across the country and help mentor for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Both veterans are strong believers that the program needs to survive. “It can’t be something that falls by the wayside because there’s no money or resources,” Jones said.

Three-quarters of members from the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate would need to vote together to override the governor's veto of ASCA's funding.

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