Photography for Veterans therapy
SPOKANE, Wash. — When soldiers came home from the Vietnam War, they had very little waiting for them in terms of therapy to deal with memories of combat. One Vietnam veteran, Christopher Chaffee, didn’t want today’s generation of veterans to go through that, so he decided to do something about it.
Two years ago Chaffee had just retired. He purchased a camper and had plans to see America, but something held him back.
“It seems the camera has grabbed me by the neck straps and dragged me right back out the door and said we are not done yet,” Chaffee shared.
The idea of forming a camera club for veterans came about.
“I started talking with doctors and psychiatrists out at the VA Medical Center about the possibility of a creative endeavor and the alternative therapeutic value of that,” he explained.
Together they created a step by step program for veterans dealing with depression and post traumatic stress with class starting at the Veterans Outreach Center.
He added, “there’s a safe-zone that they feel there. They are in the classroom with other vets that are suffering from the same things that they are going through so they have a camaraderie that goes there.”
Out in the field, Chafee says carrying cameras mirrors the sense of protection veterans had carrying weapons in combat; in a sense reprogramming the brain as they are not destructive.
“We avoid terms such as shooting people. We talk about photographing subjects when it comes to portraiture,” Chaffee shares.
The program has received great feedback from the counselors and students themselves.
Andrea Hesler served in the military for ten years. Her last tour in iraq was the hardest.
Hesler explained, “within my unit we lost 6 people. Within the battalion we lost 39.”
She had a hard time making friends as people couldn’t relate to what she had been through.
“I just feel comfortable with the people here. Its been a wonderful experience,” she added.
Veteran Noel Pierce shared that in the ten years since he returned from active duty. He became a recluse. LightBenders was what got him out of the house and doing things he couldn’t do before; like taking the bus as well as the Torchlight Parade. It was a big deal for him as he has struggled with crowds.
He shared, “It’s given me a passion that i am actually going to pursue for the rest of my life. “
The LightBenders program is the first of its kind in the United States.
Chaffee, who calls the students his heroes hopes to expand it, having at least one LightBenders program in each state.
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