Office of Public Engagement

Using the Humanities to Support Veterans

When thinking about ways to support our veterans, using the humanities isn’t the first idea that occurs to most Americans, but it is time-proven. The prospect of the humanities helping those who have undergone the gravest of human traumas – what the ancient Greeks called pathos – is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.  At the White House on Wednesday, November 16, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will bring together veterans, their families, Veterans’ Service Organizations, congressional staff, veteran healthcare providers and caregivers, and others for a presentation featuring two programs that are successfully using the humanities to engage and support the veteran community: the Maine Humanities Council’s reading program, Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care, and the Aquila Theatre’s classical dramatic performance program, Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives.

Understanding the experience of combat veterans is a complex challenge not only for them, but also for their caregivers, mental health professionals, families, and loved ones. These two programs are not just innovative in addressing veteran recovery; they’re highly effective and low-cost. In each presentation, the program directors and staff will perform readings, discuss their experience working with veterans and their care givers, and answer questions from the audience.

More about the two NEH-funded initiatives presenting tomorrow:

Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care® is a hospital-based, scholar-led, reading-and-discussion program for health care professionals. Created by the Maine Humanities Council with support from NEH, the program is now active in twenty Veterans Affairs hospitals and health care facilities across the country, and boasts proven increases in empathy for patients, medical team-building, and job satisfaction for its participants. The program allows participants to connect the world of healthcare with the experience of veterans, encouraging them to reflect on their professional roles and relationships through selected readings which include fiction, poetry, drama, and non-fiction, drawn from a variety of voices and perspectives.

Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives is an NEH-funded program that uses staged performances featuring combat veterans as actors followed by open discussions to explore the themes of Ancient Greek Literature that speak to today’s combat veterans and their families. These discussions provide a forum where veterans and their families can feel accepted and discuss their experiences, allowing for what the Greeks called catharsis. The Aquila Theatre travels around the country, performing in both rural and urban veteran communities. This program provides first-rate humanities public programming to underserved communities and engages veterans and their families to allow them to understand their experiences through classic literature.  This project includes public lectures, reading groups, actor readings, workshops, essays, videos, and podcasts.

The event is intended to highlight the NEH’s goal of seeking ways to ameliorate the homecoming experience of veterans and connect them with innovative, cost-efficient, community-based humanities support programs.  The two-hour presentation, which starts at 1 PM, will also be streamed on the White House website, at

Jim Leach is the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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