Army veteran using art to help other veterans struggling with depression

- As we honor our fallen military servicemen and servicewomen on Memorial Day, one Army veteran is using art to help prevent soldiers from an often silent killer – suicide.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans a day take their own lives.

Martin Cervantez is transforming the Lorton prison guard towers to kaleidoscopes – one window pane at a time.

“Beacons of Peace, Love and Strength is a transformational title,” Cervantez said. “This is the former prison so part of the push here is reform art. Being retired and put in a position to be able to work with veteran artists on projects, I want to bring them here.”

These three towers turned colorful beacons are one of the several projects Cervantes is leading at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. Cervantes is the center's first military veteran artist in residence. It is a post-military career to help him and other veterans struggling with depression.

“For my veteran friends, be strong,” he said. “Too many suicides. I have a lot of friends dealing with suicide. If I had a reason to do anything, this is it.”

Cervantez said he retired from the Army two years ago. He has been a self-taught artist for nearly two decades.

The Beacons of Peace, Love and Strength towers are almost a finished product despite broken windows, disrepair, vandalism and decay after the prison closed 16 years ago.

“I want to bring the community together so they can understand our story,” he said. “Stories about our service, being in combat, where we serve, how we serve, what we do, who we are. A lot of times, there is no conversation. There are just statements and I want to create a conversation through art.”

Cervantez was also an artist in residence at the U.S. Army Center of Military History. He has deployed to Afghanistan twice to document the war.

He said his message today – if you are a veteran and need help, reach out to someone.

The Veteran Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255.

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