Journaling is more than just a pastime. In some cases, it’s a lifesaver.
Studies have shown that personal writing fights depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and improves mental health overall.
Veterans writing groups have popped up across the nation in recent years, helping veterans to heal and connect with civilians.
Sonya Padgett is the founder of the Las Vegas Veterans Writing Group. She started it after she was unable to find a local writing group specifically for veterans.
“At the same time that I was thinking I wanted to start a veterans group, I was also thinking I wanted to help other veterans who maybe didn’t have a voice or a way to tell their own stories," said Padgett, who served in the Air Force during Desert Storm.
The group meets at Veterans Village, a low-cost housing campus that offers various programs for vets.
Padgett said the group often isn't about improving as a writer or addressing specific mental health issues. She said many members benefit just from talking to people who have been in similar situations.
“Those are secondary benefits that come from just the act of getting together with people who have shared experience and writing and exploring topics that caused you difficulty in the past,” she said.
Some of those who have benefited are Vietnam Veteran Glenn Noll and Air Force veteran Mark Abukoff. Noll served in the Vietnam War and Abukoff served in the 1980s.
“One thing that Sonya does is she pulls me out of my comfort zone really well,” Abukoff said.
Abukoff said Padgett will push them to talk and write about experiences from their years in the military, even if they find it difficult.
He said the writers' group has opened the door to his creative side. Noll agreed with that.
“I’m a better person because I like to write, and if Sonya hadn’t come along I never would have done that,” he said.
Noll was on the verge of being homeless when his caseworker at Veterans Affairs suggested he go to Veterans Village. He credits that program with helping save his life.
But he credits the writers' group with helping him with his mental health issues.
Padgett would eventually like to publish some of the veterans' writing, which includes poetry and science-fiction.
"My original goal in doing this was to have a publication that the members could contribute to, and also perhaps be paid for their contributions, so that they could see there's value in writing and sharing their stories," she said.
Sonya Padgett, founder, Las Vegas Veterans Writing Group; Glenn Noll, Navy veteran, Vietnam War; Mark Abukoff, Air Force veteran