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National Recreation Therapy Service

Recreation Therapy/Creative Arts services

. . . Changing Lives through Recreation Therapy and Creative Arts Therapies

The Recreation Therapy Service is responsible for national policies related to Recreation Therapy and the Creative Arts Therapies (art, dance, drama, and music). The Service collaborates and cooperates with other services within the VHA and community partner organizations. These efforts promote and ensure an exceptional level of care and high quality services for all Veterans as reflected in the I-CARE Core Values. The service coordinates programs and services for VHA Recreation Therapists and Creative Arts Therapists to enhance and improve their knowledge, skill, and ability. Through these efforts, the Service reaffirms the mission.
    - Recreational Therapy Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Creative Arts Therapy Fact Sheet (PDF)

Veteran Centered Recreational and Creative Arts Therapy


The Mission of the Recreation Therapy Service, a direct-care interdisciplinary service, is to improve and enrich bio-psycho-social functioning through active therapy and/or meaningful therapeutic activities to maintain or improve functional independence and life quality.  The intended outcome of the state of art evidence-based clinical interventions is independence in life activities based upon patient/residents needs and goals.


“Utilizes a wide range of therapeutic activities to restore the bio-psycho-social functional capabilities of Veterans with injuries, chronic illnesses, and other disabling conditions.” The Recreation / Creative Arts Therapy program is designed to promote rehabilitation and wellness, and to provide disabled Veterans a continuum of care that adds a special value to their lives. 


The service embraces a philosophy of health promotion and disease prevention facilitated by qualified clinicians to enhance physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure development that support each Veteran’s self-directed, self-determined, and fully independent participation in their chosen life pursuits.
Veteran doing pullups for recreation therapy


Recreation Therapy/Creative Arts services are provided throughout the VHA healthcare system.  Services are provided for individuals and groups in acute, residential, outpatient, home based, and telehealth settings. Recreation Therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation treatment and other therapeutic interventions based upon the assessed; needs of Veterans with illnesses and/or disabling conditions. The purpose of the recreation therapy process is to improve or maintain physical, cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual functioning in order to facilitate full participation in life.

Therapeutic Interventions

Recreation Therapy: is individualized to each person, their past, present and future interests and lifestyle. The recreation therapist has a unique perspective regarding the social, cognitive, physical, and leisure needs of the Veteran. Recreation therapists weave the concept of healthy living into treatment to improve functioning, and enhance independence and successful involvement in all aspects of life. 

Creative Arts Therapy: is the clinical process of expressing, communicating, and exchanging conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings through the arts as interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved creative arts therapy program. Creative Arts Therapy is the use of arts - visual arts, dance, music, drama, and other media - materials, methods, modalities, and techniques through the creative process for therapeutic purposes. (Learn more...)

  • Art Therapy: Is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.
  • Dance Therapy: Is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance for  emotional, cognitive, social, behavioral and physical conditions. 
  • Drama Therapy: Is the intentional use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote health, thus treating individuals with a range of mental health, cognitive and developmental disorders.
  • Music Therapy: Is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. The therapist uses music and all of its facets-physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual-to help Veterans to improve or maintain their health. 

Aquatic Therapy: Aquatic Therapy is the use of water for resistance instead of utilizing  manual weights. The goal is to rehabilitate patients after injury or those with chronic illness,  by avoiding the potentially detrimental impact that manual weights place on joints. Aquatic Therapy utilizes a series of exercises and activities designed to take advantage of the unique healing benefits of water. The buoyancy provided by water lessens the pressure on muscles and joints, assists with movement and reduces swelling caused by gravity. Without the pull of gravity working against them, patients can exercise more comfortably, increasing their levels of strength, tolerance, flexibility and endurance with less pain and muscle stress.


Current research indicates a significant number of positive health outcomes resulting from participation in recreation therapy and creative arts therapy programs.  As a health care provider, evidence based outcomes are critical to the viability of these therapies and the specific health outcomes that are a result of these interventions.

Care Standards

Recreation therapists are standard treatment team members in rehabilitation services.
In addition, recreation therapists are designated as treatment team members (based upon need) in the acute brain injury, the post-acute brain injury, and the inpatient rehabilitation standards of the commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

The centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services includes recreation therapy in the mix of treatment and rehabilitation services used to determine federal compliance in skilled nursing, rehabilitation (physical and psychiatric), and long term care facilities. Recreation Therapy serves Veterans across the continuum of care including Tele-Rehabilitation. Recreation Therapy serves as an integral member of interdisciplinary patient treatment teams.The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services includes recreation therapy in the mix of treatment and rehabilitation services used to determine federal compliance in skilled nursing, rehabilitation (physical and psychiatric), and long term care facilities. Recreation Therapy is woven within the compliance standards for Joint Commission and for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Recreation  Therapy Organizations

National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events

Each year, VA sponsors six national events for U.S. military Veterans served by VA medical facilities nationwide.  Each program enhances the physical, psycho-social, and emotional well-being of Veterans who participate.  Veterans involved in these events and the hundreds of VA employees and volunteers who support them each year all share a strong sense of purpose and camaraderie.

Each national event increases awareness of the therapeutic value of recreation, sports, or the creative arts.  The events are co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
Veterans’ Service Organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Adaptive Sports Grants Program

The Adaptive Sports Grant Program is facilitated and managed by the National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events Office (NVSP&SE). The mission of the NVSP&SE office is to provide opportunities for Veterans to improve their independence, well-being, and quality of life through adaptive sports and therapeutic arts programs. VA awards grants to qualifying organizations to plan, develop, manage, and implement programs to provide adaptive sports opportunities for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces as authorized under 38 United States Code 521A.

Learn more about the NVSP&SE office in the NVSP&SE Fact Sheet. More information at and @Sports4Vets

Thumbs Up for Sailing

Learn more about Recreation Therapy/ Creative Arts at the Department of Veterans Affairs