Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
Bay Pines VA Veteran Finds Healing Through Crafts
Dalia Cox, a former U.S. Army 88M Motor Transport Operator, doesn't like to talk about her third and final combat deployment.
Cox, who medically retired from the Army after 23 years of service, received a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2005 while serving as an advisor to the 223rd Transportation Company from Newtown Square, Pa. Fifteen years later, Cox still suffers from TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
VA estimates 11 to 20 out of every 100 Veterans who deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD.
While Bay Pines offers conventional treatments for PTSD that includes trauma-focused psychotherapies such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which teaches Veterans to reframe negative thoughts, and Prolonged Exposure (PE), which shows Veterans how to gain control by facing their negative feelings, when Cox began her therapy for PTSD and TBI, her therapist started her in a group therapy called Creative Arts Therapy. Or, in layman terms, crafting.
"When I first started the Creative Arts Therapy program, I was very quiet and withdrawn from the other Veterans in the program," said Cox. "My TBI causes me to lose focus, and crafting keeps my mind off downrange. Keeps me focused. Helps me to communicate better and think better."
Research has shown creative activities such as art, music, dance and writing relieve stress and promote relaxation. Creative events, including crafting, have proved to be valuable in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and depression.
"Crafting is something you can put your mind into. Something you can do on your own. You end up with something beautiful and creative," said Cox.
Crafting has also helped to improve Cox's social abilities.
"Dalia has improved 100% since she started attending the Creative Arts Therapy program and visiting the craft center," said Kathryn [Kathy] Vanasse, a Craft Care Specialist at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
Vanasse has been employed by Help Heal Veterans and a volunteer at C.W. Bill Young Medical Center for 13 years. She noted several observable benefits of crafting including how crafting can help Veterans who are participating in drug and alcohol rehab to focus on something other than their addiction, help calm the mind, and improve social skills.
"When she [Dalia] first started coming to the craft center, she wouldn't talk to anyone and would only give me a death stare," said Vanasse.
Cox, who kept to herself initially, now finds she enjoys the camaraderie within the craft center with the other Veteran crafters and staff.
"It's like being in an Army unit," said Cox. "In here, I'm the class clown."
Cox has been crafting and visiting the craft center on the C.W. Bill Young Medical Center campus for nine years. Before the coronavirus pandemic, one could find Cox in the craft center almost every day working on some of her favorite crafts like painting and wood burning.
However, due to coronavirus and CDC guidelines, the craft center is open one day a week instead of five. Knowing that many Veteran patients are homebound and unable to come to the craft center, Vanasse works with recreational therapists to distribute the crafts kits. Vanasse delivers the kits to Veterans living in the Community Living Center and the Domicile on Bay Pines campus. She also sends craft kits to homeless centers and nursing homes that care for Veterans in the community.
"Wherever our Vets are, I get kits to them," said Vanasse.
Paying It Forward
Now, Cox not only talks to others, when she's not crafting herself she helps teach and counsel other Veterans who suffer from PTSD like she does.
"Kathy took me under her wings and taught me more than painting techniques, said Cox. "She taught me to pay it forward.
"I tell other Veterans, here's my number. I can't see what you see, but I can feel what you felt," said Cox.