Veterans Learn the Healing Arts

Open air art therapy for veterans creates another treatment option for mental health care.


Making art is not only life enriching—it can help reduce stress and anxiety, provide emotional release, relieve depression, and boost self-esteem. That is why art therapy has been a valuable part of VA mental health services since 1945. Plein air painting—painting outdoors “in the fresh air”—gives an added dimension to that. It can be both calming and energizing, offers challenges not found in a studio setting, teaches observation, and can lead to rewarding social interactions and connections. Not least, there is the benefit of being surrounded by nature.

The publishers and editor of Plein Air magazine wanted to introduce more veterans to the pleasures and benefits of outdoor painting, so they created the Plein Air Force Veterans Squad. Dennis Tyson, Commander of the Veterans Squad, says the goal is to “[s]how our gratitude to veterans by teaching them painting, allowing them to enjoy the benefits and stress reduction that come with painting outdoors.” The program seeks to enlist painters from around the nation to visit veterans’ groups, do demonstrations, and offer free lessons. The guiding principle, Tyson says, is that cost should not prevent any veteran from participating, so lessons and supplies are free or low-cost.

The program runs 2 websites. gives existing plein air painters “missions” and tools to spread the word about plein air painting. That site provides scripts, posters, and guidance on promoting speaking engagements. A main purpose is to drive veterans and others interested in learning to the second website,, “so we can give them encouragement, free lessons, tips and tools to start painting.” also offers a directory of artists who teach, and a directory of “painting buddies.”

In addition to the websites, interested veterans can get more information at

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