Daniel Dunn joined the Marine Corps in 1983 when he was just 17-years old. His father was a Marine and the junior Dunn grew up wanting to be just like him. After training, Dunn served in the 1st Tank Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the same unit as his father, who served in WWII.
Dunn served from 1983 to 1987, including 13 months at sea. He traveled all over the world: Hawaii, Philippines, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and Japan. After service, Dunn returned to his hometown of Battle Creek, Mich.
Art and music therapy at VA
In a 2001 accident, Dunn broke his back and neck. That eventually led to depression and anxiety. His social worker, Tommy Williams, suggested he attend music and art therapy sessions at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center. Though he hadn’t played piano since he was a teenager, he agreed.
When playing an instrument like the guitar or drums, Dunn says that the pain and mental health issues that come with being disabled go away. The more he plays, the better he feels.
In 2017, Dunn participated in the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition & Festival in Buffalo, N.Y. He loved working with other artists from around the country and the time they spent practicing and preparing for the festival.
A year later, one of his art pieces won an award. It was a painted barrel with five rings, where each ring represented a specific feeling he has dealt with: anger, guilt, shame, fear and depression. He called it the “PTSD Barrel,” and inside the barrel was a note.
“We start by admitting to ourselves that we are Hurt. At some point we begin to question, Will I ever be normal? Can I be a productive member of society? Is it possible to have a good relationship with those people who love me? We begin to Learn putting in Effort to Re-engage Life.”
The best in the country
In November 2019, Dunn returned to the Creative Arts Competition as a volunteer. In a 2019 Veteran’s Day story for WWMT, Dunn discussed Veteran suicide, group therapy, and anger management. He said that putting his feelings into song and then releasing those feelings is magic: music and art helped to subdue his anger, and that helped his mental health, too.
It’s why Dunn believes the Battle Creek VA is the best music and art therapy program in the country.
Writer: Rachel Heimann
Editor: Essence McPherson
Graphics: Michelle Zischke