Featured Change Maker — Richard Casper
There was a guitar that sat in the corner of Richard’s room. He didn’t know how to play it; it had been a gift and had sat there untouched for quite a while. But one day he picked it up, started teaching himself, and found out quickly that music was able to help him channel his thoughts and emotions in a way that nothing else could. This discovery wasn’t just going to change Richard’s life — it was going to impact the lives of hundreds of veterans as well.
In February of 2017, Richard Casper was riding in a humvee, making a routine patrol in Iraq. For the fourth time since his deployment, the vehicle he was in shook violently, rocked by an improvised explosive device. This latest attack left Richard with his third concussion and a traumatic brain injury that would lead to him being distinguished with a Purple Heart.
Getting back to civilian life was an adjustment. Richard suffered from the same post-traumatic stress that many other soldiers do, both from his own experiences and the memories of seeing friends killed in the line of duty. Unsure of where to turn, he found himself in a dark place. Until he picked up that guitar that had been collecting dust in the corner.
Music had such a transformative effect on Richard’s mental health that he felt compelled to share it with others. In 2013 he started CreatiVets, a nonprofit that paired veterans with Nashville songwriters as a form of music therapy. Nashville was the perfect place to begin, as the songwriting community was eager to help. Soon veterans were in the room writing with artists and songwriters that had major record deals and chart-topping hits on their resumes.
“Art brought me almost all the way back to my pre-war self,” says Richard, but helping other veterans is what gets me the closest to my old self.”
The songs that come out of the CreatiVets writing rooms aren’t just therapy, either. They’re really good. CreatiVets partnered with Big Machine Records to publish Veteran Songs. An 11-track album with songs that came out of these writing sessions. They offer an intimate and often heart-breaking look into the lives of veterans who have suffered from loss and trauma.
With the music program being so successful, Richard expanded the CreatiVets mission to include a visual arts program that partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University, The School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, and the University of Southern California. These schools provided spaces for veterans to learn, work and display their art in showings for the public.
“It’s hard to express in words how I felt after that experience, but I know I let go of something deep and feel that this experience is going to allow me to maintain that positive attitude while giving me the courage to live a meaningful life with my children.”
— Veteran Participant, Art Program
To see more about the impact art therapy can have in the lives of veterans, watch Time’s Magazine’s Evidence of Things Unseen, which features Richard and President George W. Bush exploring and discussing healing through art.
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