PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A local veterans’ organization is using art to raise awareness about veteran suicide.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of Vietnam veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in any given year.
In comparison, approximately 6% of the U.S. adult population experiences PTSD in any given year.
22VA is a group of veteran artists who express themselves through visual and creative arts as a form of mental therapy.
Whether it’s through painting, ceramics, or sculpting, Navy veteran and 22VA founder Michael Todd Ragan said it’s often easier for veterans to express themselves through art rather than to another person.
“I think it’s a matter of just getting stuff out of your head … Art can be therapeutic, [and] there’s help out there. A lot of times what we do is just try to help somebody get to the right place to get help,” Ragan said.
Ragan said 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and there needs to be more awareness about the issue.
“If it was 22 college students committing suicide a day, it would be an epidemic. In the day of the pandemic, things are even worse. More veterans are isolated, people aren’t getting out,” he said, adding the suicide rate during the pandemic is likely higher than 22 per day.
Ragan said he wants more people to become aware of the group and wants to bridge the gap between veterans and non-veterans. He said they are accepting donations for art supplies and unwanted bicycles in any condition.
On October 12, Ragan said 22VA is being recognized by Goodwill for their work, followed by a proclamation at Peoria City Hall to declare September 22 as 22VA Day.