Americans for the Arts Releases Statement on the Passage of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021


Brigadier General Nolen Bivens (Ret.), Interim President and CEO of Americans for the Arts and the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, released the following statement in response to final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act:

“We are pleased that Congress has passed the William M. (Mac) Thornberry Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2021 (H.R. 6395) over the objections of President Trump, who vetoed the bill on December 23, 2020. The House and Senate voted on December 28, 2020, and January 1, 2021, respectively, to override the veto, which specifies the budget, expenditures, and policies of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and authorizes $740 billion for FY 2021.

“The authorization bill takes the unprecedented step to support the use of creative arts therapies to treat service members with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, and directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees no later than 90 days after the enactment of the bill on the feasibility of expanding the creative arts therapies program.

“This builds upon language first included in last year’s FY 2020 Defense appropriations bill, which recognized that the use of creative arts therapies shows potential in treating service members with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, and supported DoD efforts to include creative arts therapies as part of an interdisciplinary treatment model at the National Intrepid Centers. It further encouraged the DoD to continue collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Forces program. 

“This is a landmark development in the 60-year history of DoD authorizations that recognizes the value of creative arts therapies in mitigating the impacts of war and conflicts, including the physical and psychological injuries service members incur. By specifically requesting the DoD report on its current support—as well as the projected costs and number of locations where these programs could be expanded—Congress is structurally laying the groundwork for further DoD investment in creative arts therapies.

“This also bodes well for the larger impact on American society, as historically numerous medical advances that first appeared on battlefields are now the bedrock of modern public health—from triage to penicillin to advanced prosthetics and reconstructive surgery. As society faces a historic pandemic, Congress and military leaders recognizing the value of creative arts therapies in the treatment of emotional and physical trauma comes not a moment too soon.

“We are thankful to the leadership of House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Chellie Pingree (D-ME), former Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN)—Reps. Horn and Banks were both HASC members in the 116th Congress—for building the support for this provision.

“This breakthrough in policy was an outcome of our major collaborative effort, the National Initiative for Arts and Health Across the Military (NIAHM), to advance the policy, practice, and quality use of arts and creativity as tools for health in the military. We’d also like to recognize the advocates participating in the 2020 National Arts Action Summit which pursued the policy with members of Congress.”

For tools, resources, and information on how to make the case for the arts and arts education, visit the Americans for the Arts’ Arts Mobilization Center.





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