May 19, 2020
Marine veteran Richard Casper’s life fell apart when he returned home with combat wounds from his service in Iraq. After nearly giving up, he discovered art and song-writing as therapeutic forms of expression, and he now uses these mediums to help other veterans heal. Richard says of songwriting: “I found out how to tell my story without actually telling my story.”
With me today is Richard Casper, a United States Marine Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, Artist, and Entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of CreatiVets, a non-profit that provides art, music, and writing programs for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Richard was named one of TIME magazines Next Generation Leaders, is the feature of TIME’s documentary Evidence of Things Unseen, and was recognized by President George W. Bush and The Bush Institute for his passion and work helping combat veterans. Richard’s military experiences and injuries in Iraq resulted in a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. After nearly giving up, he discovered art and song-writing as therapeutic forms of expression, and he went on to attend and graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now uses art and songwriting to help other veterans heal; AND he teaches art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Southern California. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Ashley, newborn son, and dog Bentley.
- CreatiVets’ mission: empower wounded veterans to heal through the arts and music.
- CreatiVets’ goal: offer opportunities of relief and healing; our purpose is to use art to help disabled veterans cope with service-related trauma by fostering self-expression in a way that allows them to transform their stories of trauma and struggle into an art form that can inspire and motivate continued healing.
- One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTS; the veteran suicide rate in the United States is 20 suicides per day. Veterans now account for 20% of suicides in the United States.
- Creative art can reduce PTS symptoms, reduce the severity of depression that often accompanies PTS, and improve the quality of life for veterans and their family members.
- Sessions are structured to allow participants to express their thoughts and feelings without having to verbalize or directly confront the trauma.
- Participants can avoid the mental health treatment stigma.
- “The song gave me a chance to tell my daughter something I never could quite figure out how to do. I felt as if I was put in a position where even if I had said the words to her face-to-face, it didn’t have nearly as much impact as the song did, and it definitely brought [her] closer to me again.” — Veteran Participant, Songwriting Program (from CreatiVets’ website)
- Common themes: Post-Traumatic Stress; Survivor Guilt; Transitioning
Richard recommends attending an in-person or virtual writers round because when you hear the story behind the song you love it gives you a better understanding of how to write a song. During quarantine, a lot of musicians are streaming these online, as well as concerts, lessons, etc. Be sure you are following your favorite musicians on social media so you can enjoy these connections!
Mindy’s Bonus Improv for any of you who are songwriters: Try out the cool free app that Richard co-created, We Should Write Sometime (called the “Tinder for songwriters”).
- CreatiVets Website
- We Should Write Sometime (called the “Tinder for songwriters”). Articles about the app: Behind the Scenes With We Should Write Sometime, and Evolution Of The Nashville Songwriter: From Solo Writes To Songwriting Apps, by Annie Reuter
- Richard was named one of TIME magazines Next Generation Leaders, is the feature of TIME’s documentary Evidence of Things Unseen.
- CreatiVets is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. If you’d like to contribute, click the Donate button on their website.
- Ep. 4: Music Rewires the Brain, with Maegan Morrow (Gabby Giffords’ music therapist) is referenced by Richard during our conversation.
Richard wrote a song with Bryant Allan, who had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Writing this song together changed Allan’s life. They released the song independently and Allan is the one singing the song: “Chasin’ Memories” (co-written by Bryant Allan, Richard Casper, and Jesse Taylor).