BETHESDA – It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. A local doctor makes use of the pen and other artistic instruments to help his fellow veterans recover from the traumatic experiences of war and raise money for their treatment.
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Fred Foote, a Montgomery County resident who graduated from Winston Churchill High School and Georgetown University Medical School, served in the United States Navy for 29 years before retiring as a captain in the Navy Medical Corps. Since 2001, Foote has been developing holistic treatment programs for the military. In these programs, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are encouraged to pursue various artistic endeavors.
“The best way to help a veteran is to encourage them to become an artist, either by writing, making music or just being in nature,” Foote said.
Foote currently directs the Warrior Poetry Program, a component of Walter Reed Medical Center’s Warrior Arts Program, which he developed and first opened in 2011. The program is supported by numerous individual and corporate donors, including Johnson & Johnson and the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Making music or art is now part of the daily routine for most patients and families at Walter Reed. The hospital also hosts performers on a regular basis and uses live music at patients’ bedsides to help them manage pain and agitation.
Foote has long been a poetry writer, but it became an especially important activity for him while serving aboard the hospital ship USS Comfort during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Last year Foote published “Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War”, a book of poems written during and inspired by that experience. The book has had an enthusiastic reception, winning the Grayson Books Poetry Prize out of 180 entries. Foote reads from the book at speaking arrangements to raise money for veteran treatment programs. He co-founded Warrior Arts Café, a semi-monthly workshop and performance venue at Alfio’s Restaurant in Chevy Chase, where he and his patients present their work to the public.
“Civilians don’t understand the military, don’t understand what these people have been through,” Foote said. “After five minutes of poetry reading, they have a better idea and want to help.” So far, the Warrior Arts Program has raised over $400,000.
The success of Foote’s methods and programs has encouraged the military to spread them to other areas. The National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military advances the use of arts in healing and health care for service men and women.
Foote is also a co-organizer of the Green Roads Project, a plan to create the world’s largest healing garden on the premises of the medical center.
“We have to stop destroying nature, it has the power to heal,” Foote said.
Foote will read from and sign copies of his book at the Kensington Day of the Book festival on April 26.
More information on Foote, his work, and his programs can be found at his website, www.frederickfoote.com.