Veteran's Stories: Barbara Barnett November 11, 2016 11:40

Every year on November 11th, America honors the nation’s veterans on Veterans Day. There are 21.8 million veterans in the US, roughly 7% of the population, according to the 2014 Census Bureau. Sadly, often times the horrors of war follow the veterans home. More than 20% of troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have come home with PTSD, and 12% of America’s homeless are veterans. Art, for these veterans, is a place of refuge.

Veterans Day for me and my fellow veterans is a day to thank each other for service, and remember we have each other’s back, always and first. That's the most important message for me on Veterans Day. I served during the Vietnam War, and I was deployed to the 130th station hospital medical corps in Germany for 18 months. My brother was serving in combat for two tours in Vietnam. My younger sister served Alaska, and I had an older sister who lived in Berlin during the war with her husband, who also served. It was a family tradition. My father served in Korea. We are all US army specialists in different fields. The pride of hard work, personal responsibility, and integrity, which we were raised with, especially coming from small town in New England and a big family, fit well into the military environment. We were successful in each our own ways.

In terms of my journey in art, the journey required an untangling, discovering different paths, people and institutions, who might assist me with my broken spirit from things that happened in the service. I tunneled through a lot of memories to recapture my own balance and lost of innocence, and some of the darkness engulfed me.

In my early years, I never considered painting. After I served, I worked for some 25 years as a consultant. The army time allowed me the GI bill. Unfortunately, my PTSD, which was caused by military sexual trauma at Fort Ord, forced me out of my career at age 54. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Unfortunately, I am now 100% disabled. However, that being said, the good news is that I started painting one day in my garage. For about 3 years I painted, and painted, and painted without any lessons. At first, I wasn’t any good. But as time went on, I took some lessons with veterans who were also into the arts and got involved in types of online comradery, and my confidence grew and my work changed. One day, the women warriors really the started coming out on my canvases. And they have continued to express themselves. I might say that some of them are my alter egos and some of them are just women that have shown strength in life that I admire. I never start with a person in mind. It just unfolds until I realize who is coming out, which is really the thrill for me.

For me, ArtLifting has been a godsend. Before I was diagnosed with my disability, I was couch surfing on family members’ couches with only my social security disability. That was very difficult time for me. It took five years to get to the point where I was approved, but that was what set me free. ArtLifting, unlike some of my veteran groups, does a lot more with my work. I am so excited about the marketplace and exposure that ArtLifting brings to my talent. And it’s also been a key opportunity for me to give back to others, especially to the disabled. ArtLifting has helped me do that through its model and the choices I have made. Painting is very much apart of my behavioral and mental health well-being. Not only do I get the anti-anxiety benefits of being immersed in my art as I am painting, it’s also knowing that I am giving. It gives purpose to my life because I am a doer, and not doing takes me down a very dark road.

I am excited to continue the work I am doing, especially with a new series I’ve started. But overall, I am grateful. I am grateful for it all.

By Barbara Barnett 

Learn more about Barbara here