Doctor's Exhibit Paints Picture Of War's Impact

Jul 17, 2011

After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of wounded veterans return home needing treatment and rehabilitation.

Their injuries, both physical and mental, have an emotional impact on their caregivers. And Dr. Bill Blahd, a doctor at a VA hospital in Idaho, has depicted the daily trauma he sees in a powerful art exhibit on the impact of war.

Blahd has never served in the military or lost anyone in the war, but he sees the effects of war on soldiers every time he steps into the emergency room, where he spends three days a week working 13 hours a day.

"We see all the patients with medical emergencies for the most part — chest pain, abdominal pain and neurological problems," he says.

Blahd has seen a lot in his 30 years as an ER doctor. But in his four years at Boise's VA hospital, it's the trauma facing veterans that is so striking.

"I just had one yesterday when I was working: A guy in his mid 40s who was suicidal and drunk. His wife said he's not doing well, he's suicidal. He had a lot of kills in the war," he says.

Blahd doesn't wear his emotions on his shirtsleeve. But he says the stories and experiences that veterans recount, stay with him. So much so that he's found a way to share those stories outside the ER.

Blahd's other passion is painting. And for the past year, he's practically lived in his studio depicting the mental and physical injuries of the veterans he treats through art. The result is a series of 14 oil paintings he now has on display.

Blahd says some paintings can be tough to look at because the paintings represent the unseen wounds and trauma that veterans cope with every day.

"I was stunned at the VA to see the level of emotional and spiritual trauma that these guys have had inflicted on them," he says. "I had a way through art to maybe explain some of the feelings that are hard to verbalize."

David Hale, who owns the gallery in downtown Boise that showcase Blahd's paintings, says the exhibit titled "In Our Name" is a very powerful body of work.

"I've had several different veterans in here that have gotten very emotional when they've gone through and looked at all the pieces because it speaks to them," he says.

Ken Khatain, a psychiatrist at the veteran's hospital in Boise, visited the exhibit and was so touched ended up purchasing a painting.

"I bought this one: This is Shell Shocked," he says. "The individual is naked in a fetal position with obvious problems dealing with the memories from his head."

Khatain, a veteran of the Air force, also worked in a field hospital in England treating injured soldiers from Operation Desert Storm.

"And so I've heard every one of these stories many times over in various permiatations and more," he says. "He hit me with it very powerfully."

Among Blahd's other paintings, is a smiling high school senior holding a basketball right before enlisting. Blahd wants to show people the cost of war on soldiers.

"If they don't necessarily come home with a physical wound, believe me, they are wounded when they come home," he says.

Hundreds of people have viewed the exhibit, many stopping to share their own stories about the impact of war on their lives. Blahd says he continues to treat many of the same veterans who inspire his work.

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