Among the various additional benefits of volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial is engaging with veterans. Many of our visitors are either active or former/retired service members, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation as I’m wandering through the galleries or working out on the courtyard and taking folks up into Liberty Tower.
Our corps of volunteers range in age from late teens to late eighties and early nineties, and veterans make up a large portion of that group, from career officers to those who did just a single enlistment term. Several of these volunteers have penned books, including historical tomes or guidebooks about the Great War as well as the odd novel here and there. I’ve picked up a few of these, either to add in my ongoing study of the war or because it just sounded interesting and I wanted to support a friend and fellow writer.
When I started volunteering at the museum last year, I became reacquainted with the Veterans’ Voices Writing Project. I’d heard of the program here and there over the years but never really looked into it, so when I finally had cause to do so after finding an issue of their magazine in the museum’s volunteer lounge back in the spring, I was intrigued by what I found.
Based right here in Kansas City, the project has acted as an outreach program for veterans since the end of World War II. Veterans have been sharing their stories with the project since 1946, when the project began as the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Volunteers went into V.A. hospitals and other facilities and encouraged service members to write down their stories as a form of therapy while recovering from their wounds. In 2015 and recognizing that not all veterans seek or are afforded easy access to this or other programs, the project expanded its scope in an effort to reach veterans outside the V.A. system.
As the VVWP website puts it:
“Today, it serves all veterans with therapeutic writing programs to heal their unseen emotional and moral wounds. Veterans write about personal experiences and innermost thoughts to help manage the effects of PTSD and to reduce the risk of suicide. They also write for creative expression. It offers the opportunity for community in writing groups and to have their work published. The program continues its important work for those serving in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Now, with the return of injured veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts, the project is more important than ever.
“Mental well-being is an important component in the health of returning military veterans. Veterans Voices Writing Project, Inc. (VVWP) a 501(c)(3) organization helps veterans heal from the physical and psychological trauma associated with military service, whether from actual combat, war training or emotional trauma. The project helps military personnel transitioning to civilian life to heal from emotional scars by encouraging them to write down their thoughts, concerns and reflections.”
Using writing and other forms of creativity to help deal with all manner of personal issues is not new, of course, and neither is it even a recent development in veterans’ circles. What does seem to be a relatively recent development, however, is widespread acknowledgment of the benefits derived from such activities. The VVWP is just one group working to raise awareness about the benefits of therapeutic writing. You can read more about the program’s history by clicking here.
The magazine and the project are non-profit ventures and funded via donations. Volunteers comprise their editorial staff, each of them committed to helping veterans share their stories. Volunteers help out with everything from organizing fundraisers and other awareness campaigns to serving as writing aides to veterans and even transcribing submissions received in longhand or as audio.
I started paying attention to the effort thanks to copies of their magazine I found at the museum. Any veteran is eligible to submit their writing for consideration, and each issue presents a broad selection of personal stories, anecdotes, and poetry submitted by men and women representing all branches of the service across multiple generations. The most current issue I have on hand features pieces written by veterans of World War II all the way up through current conflicts.
If you’re a veteran (or know someone who served) and are looking for an outlet to share stories like those showcased in Veteran’s Voices, you might consider reviewing past issues as well as their submission guidelines and why the project is important:
“Allowing a veteran to connect in the privacy of his or her own space and tell the nation what is going on in their world – the world that lives inside themselves – the world they served and the country they came from is awesome.”
— Rich Wangard – Neena, Wisconsin
(as quoted on the VVWP website)