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VA Portland Health Care System

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How Writing Helps Heal Portland Veterans

Group photo of poetry event participants.

The group included writers of all levels from individuals learning about writing to experienced authors. Craig Ling, Dentist at VA Portland Health Care System, is in the front row, 5th from left. Kim Stafford, Oregon's Poet Laureate, is in the front row, 3rd from right.

Friday, February 15, 2019

On Saturday, January 26, 2019, more than 40 veterans, family members, VA caregivers, and members of the community attended a writing retreat facilitated by Kim Stafford, Oregon’s Poet Laureate.

The afternoon gave participants an opportunity to write, share ideas about how writing can promote health and happiness, and offered resources for beginning and sustaining a writing practice.

The event was initiated by Craig Ling, dentist and Chief of Dental Service, at Portland VA Medical Center. Outside of the hospital, Ling enjoys reading and loves to write poetry.

“Many of my patients write stories and poetry,” said Ling. “One of my patients once told me that it wasn’t until he started writing that he started to heal after Vietnam because it allowed him to say what was on his mind and in his heart.”

Ling began researching if such writing events for Veterans had been hosted by VA and had little success finding any specific to the local VA community.

Ling brought the idea of creating a writing event for Veterans to a few his fellow coworkers including Judy Ulibarri, VA RN, Helen Lee, VA Nurse Residency Program Director, Nathan Davis, Administrative Support Assistant for VA Dental Service, as well as Stafford, and they all fully supported it. Together Ling and Stafford worked out all the details to make a writing workshop happen – and it ended up being a huge success! The theme of the event was related to healing. During the writing workshop Stafford asked participants, “Is the question, What’s the matter with you? or What matters to you?”

The event was held at full capacity and individuals from a wide-range of backgrounds were in attendance. Throughout the day, participants were engaged in conversation with Stafford and other writers, and everyone walked away with a notebook full of poems, ideas and scribbles.

“When you write, no one will tell you what you write is wrong,” said Stafford. “When you write about something good you’ve lost you can recover it.”

Many of the veterans and participants shared that they have a need for writing and that writing helps them heal. The 2.5 hour workshop gave everyone the opportunity to connect with one another, learn new skills, and write about healing topics. The group included writers of all levels from individuals learning about writing to experienced authors.

There were many different programs and organizations in attendance to show their support including Write Around Portland, Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative, StoryCorps, Art Therapy from Lewis and Clark, and Portland VA’s “My Life, My Story” program.

“We want to continue working with the arts,” said Ling. “This event was one of many ways we can touch people and continue to care for them.”

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