Veterans group in Palmdale uses art therapy to help alleviate PTSD

PALMDALE, Calif. (KABC) -- A group of military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have started a weekly art therapy group in Palmdale, where they gather to paint in the basement of a church.

Gerry Rice served a year in Vietnam with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. It was his job to guide a German shepherd through the jungle, searching for the enemy.

"I became hypervigilant, looking for the negative which was my job. I was there to determine what could be dangerous and that kind of hyper-alertness, hyperarousal was brought back to my civilian life as a symptom of PTSD," said Rice.

For forty years, Rice has battled PTSD and says he always will. But recently, he's developed a new hobby that has allowed him to heal some of his wounds: painting.

"It's helped me find expression for things. Trauma kind of resides in our short-term memory area, and so when you're trying to hone a new skill or introduce new activities, it occupies that short-term memory space," said Rice.

Jennifer Dunnagan served in the Navy. She said the first time she painted was four months ago when the program began.

"I suffer from chronic pain, and I get an hour-and-a-half a day of relief from pain just from painting. And so the painting I'm working on is an illustration of pain, my day-to-day pain," said Dunnagan.

The veterans say they plan to paint for as long as they can. Tom Hilzendeger founded the group Vets for Veterans, which funds art therapy and other programs to help those who've served.

"Anything that you can do which is positive that can stop all those negative thoughts from messing up your brain is going to help," said Hilzendeger.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.