POLITICS
01/22/2015 03:26 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Powerful Photos Depict Veterans Who Use Art Therapy To Heal

This photo series originally appeared in the February issue of National Geographic magazine.

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan often return home with wounds that can't be seen on the surface: brain injuries resulting from the shockwaves that follow explosions.

Some veterans, including service members at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, have attempted to cope with the challenges they face through art therapy.

Below, take a look at images captured by National Geographic photographer Lynn Johnson of these veterans and their loved ones:

  • Marine Cpl. Chris McNair (Ret.)
Afghanistan 2011-12
Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on t
    Lynn Johnson / National Geographic
    Marine Cpl. Chris McNair (Ret.) Afghanistan 2011-12 Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on the porch of his parents’ home in Virginia, anonymous behind a mask he made in an art therapy session. “I was just going through pictures, and I saw the mask of Hannibal Lecter, and I thought, ‘That’s who I am’ … He’s probably dangerous, and that’s who I felt I was. I had this muzzle on with all these wounds, and I couldn’t tell anyone about them. I couldn’t express my feelings.”
  • Brain injuries caused by blast events change soldiers in ways many can’t articulate. Some use art therapy, creating painted m
    Rebecca Hale / National Geographic
    Brain injuries caused by blast events change soldiers in ways many can’t articulate. Some use art therapy, creating painted masks to express how they feel.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman
Iraq 2006-08
Wearing his mask—half patriotic, half death’s-head—Hopman confronts the battery of
    Lynn Johnson / National Geographic
    Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman Iraq 2006-08 Wearing his mask—half patriotic, half death’s-head—Hopman confronts the battery of medications he takes daily for blast-force injuries he sustained while treating soldiers as a flight medic. “I know my name, but I don’t know the man who used to back up that name … I never thought I would have to set a reminder to take a shower, you know. I’m 39 years old. I’ve got to set a reminder to take medicine, set a reminder to do anything… My daughter, she’s only four, so this is the only dad she’s ever known, whereas my son knew me before.”
  • Rebecca Hale / National Geographic
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert “Bo” Wester (Ret.)
Iraq 2007, 2008-09, Afghanistan 2010
Suiting up before attempting ordnance dis
    Lynn Johnson / National Geographic
    Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert “Bo” Wester (Ret.) Iraq 2007, 2008-09, Afghanistan 2010 Suiting up before attempting ordnance disposal “is the last line. There’s no one else to call … It’s the person and the IED … and if a mistake is made at that point, then death is almost certain. They call it the long walk because once you get that bomb suit on, number one, everything is harder when you’re wearing that 100 pounds … Two, the stress of knowing what you’re about to do. And three, it’s quiet, and it seems like it takes an hour to walk.”
  • Rebecca Hale / National Geographic
  • Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany H.
Iraq 2007-08, Afghanistan 2010-11
Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while
    Lynn Johnson / National Geographic
    Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany H. Iraq 2007-08, Afghanistan 2010-11 Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while helping women in a remote Afghan village earn additional income for their families. Memory loss, balance difficulties, and anxiety are among her many symptoms.
  • Rebecca Hale / National Geographic
  • Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.)
Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08
“Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I g
    Lynn Johnson / National Geographic
    Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.) Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08 “Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I got blown up. And all this medical study—nobody ever thought that they [blast events] were very harmful, and so we didn’t log them, which we should because all blast forces are cumulative to the body. On a grade number for me, it would probably be 300-plus explosions … I’m not going to not play with my children. I’m not going to let my injuries stop them from having a good life.”
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