Vietnam veteran Johnnie Johnson's packing list, wherever he travels, always includes his prized possession -- a sizable piece of original artwork painted by a fellow Vietnam veteran.
The framed oil painting depicts a serene mountain landscape, the kind of place Johnson goes to in his mind to escape the stress and pain caused by PTSD and mental illness.
The former Navy sailor displays the painting in his room at Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, where he is enrolled in a residential treatment program.
"It meant a lot to me to get this," he said of the painting, which he received this year from combat veteran and artist Richard Beauvais. "It goes where I go. I'm in treatment here; I'm still healing."
Beauvais has painted and presented more than 300 oil paintings to combat veterans, pieces he completed in the time it takes for the Lovell FHCC Expressive Arts Therapy group to meet on Friday mornings.
It's a tradition that will continue now that Beauvais and other Lovell FHCC veteran patients received a substantial donation of art supplies from Chicago philanthropist, cable TV show host and retired ER nurse Carol Williams, co-founder of the United States Veterans Art Program with her husband, Vietnam veteran and entertainer Kimo Williams.
Kimo Williams is known for starting the Lt. Dan Band with actor Gary Sinise.
On July 14, Carol Williams delivered more than $2,000 worth of oil paint, easels, brushes and canvasses to the Expressive Arts meeting room, where Lovell FHCC mental health employees, Beauvais, Johnson and other patients in the Expressive Arts group gathered to thank her.
"I'm very happy to think that you can use them," said Williams, who added she was "blown away" by the generous donation of the oil paint to USVAP from the Coalition to Support America's Heroes.
USVAP matched the coalition's donation with another $1,000 worth of supplies, she said.
Dr. John Bair, clinical psychologist in the FHCC's Mental Health and Stress Disorders Program, listed many projects USVAP has supported at Lovell FHCC, starting several years ago with a golf outing.
"Carol has had five or six veteran artists on her TV show," Bair said. "She continues to promote the utility of art in psychotherapy with veterans ... and the value of art in psychotherapy is finally being recognized at the national level."
Last year, Kimo and Carol Williams, under the auspices of USVAP, presented a Yamaha digital piano for use by veterans being treated for PTSD and other mental illnesses at Lovell FHCC. The healing power of expressive arts, including performance art such as music, is well known to Lovell FHCC therapists, providers and social workers.
"Our heartfelt thanks goes to you," said Dr. Anthony Peterson, psychologist program manager and section chief of PTSD programs. "This is changing lives."
For Johnson, his participation in the Expressive Arts group as a vocalist and the gift of the painting from Beauvais, is all part of his recovery. He happily retrieved Beauvais' painting from his room to show to Williams and fellow veterans assembled for the presentation.
Williams, an Army veteran, said USVAP believes all recovering veterans should have the opportunity to engage in expressive arts to help them heal, and "we know it costs money to be artistic."