Jennifer DeGaetano is a U.S Army Active Duty veteran that served in Fort Hood 2001-2003, as a Truck Driver, Army Reservist Postal Clerk, OIF Deployment Bagdad, Iraq, 2004-2005. She began the Giant Steps group four years ago. “I had a lot of anger and couldn’t speak up for myself. I did not know that life experiences also triggered my anger. I did not know that my military life affected my whole life and that work and life experiences were my triggers. It took me a long time to realize my anger, anxiety, and depression were military-related. Because when you join the military, you give up your rights to have free speech. You cannot do what you want or say what you want. You sign your freedom away.”
“When I first started the group, I thought it would be just a group that does art, but little did I know that I needed this group in my life and it has changed my perception and outlook on everything. The group has given me the opportunity to find my own voice in a supportive environment. I learned to let go and have patience with myself. I found out I am not the only one with these triggers.”
She says that the strengths she has developed from the art therapy group, “…spilled out into other areas of my life and made me stronger. I now have courage and am aware of my own potential. I get a great energy from everyone in the group - it’s like we consume each other’s strengths and integrate them into our own lives, to make us better people. I understand now that this group was and is critical to my own growth.”
The Giant Steps Program is an arts-driven outpatient mental health program for Veterans connected with VA Connecticut Healthcare. The mission of Giant Steps is to promote the wellness and recovery of Veterans by providing opportunities for creative expression, and connection with others so they can rediscover personal strengths, manage stress, build resilience, enhance self- empowerment and find meaning and pleasure in their lives.
Laura Spinelli, MA, ATR, LPC
Director, Giant Steps Program
VA Connecticut HCS