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‘Rewarding to me:’ Milwaukee VA Creative Arts Festival helped injured Army veteran heal

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MILWAUKEE -- Artists from the Milwaukee area on Wednesday, Feb. 6 prepared for a special festival that helps prevent veteran suicides.

Rochelle Lopez

Rochelle Lopez said she never thought of herself as an artist. Her road to art started in Iraq. She served in the Army for nine years.

"I wanted to be proud of myself," said Lopez.

Her service ended with an injury.

"I was running a grenade range, and my aorta collapsed from the concussion waves of the grenades. I was medevaced out and had emergency open-heart surgery," said Lopez.

Lopez says she was prescribed pain killers after her surgery that led her life in a different direction.

“The next thing I know I’m homeless and I’m using street drugs. I’m using heroine, cocaine. Having so many different heart issues. I could feel my heart messing up," said Lopez

Lopez turned to the VA for recovery. Art was part of her treatment.

"There are so many things that I wish I could say that don't come out right, but I could put it into my art -- whether I'm molding something with my hands or painting," said Lopez.

She entered one of her pieces into the Milwaukee VA Medical Center's Annual Creative Arts Festival. She won first place.

"It's hard to put yourself out there. You never know how people are going to react, so for people to react so positively to it, it was really rewarding to me," said Lopez.

She said she hoped sharing her story would inspire others to get involved with the 2019 festival. The deadline for veterans to submit their work is Thursday, Feb. 7.

The festival also has a performing arts component.

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