Dr. Vaneada “Vee” Harvey was the first African American forward-deployed satellite commander in the United States Army, where she served for over 20 years.
“I didn’t really know I was making history at the time,” Vee said, “but I am very proud.”
Despite her historic and exemplary service, Vee experienced extreme hardship upon her return to civilian life. She felt largely disconnected from her family, friends, and her career. She had changed, but the expectations put on her had not. All the while, she was battling a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic back pain.
“All of the sounds and triggers really affected me,” Vee said. “I had quite a few episodes where I had panic attacks … the fight-or-flight feeling did not leave me.”
In addition to her physical and mental health struggles, Vee was also fighting an emotional battle of being a female veteran in a system that catered to men.
“I would go and try to seek resources, and they would wonder where the veteran is, and that angered me,” Vee said. “Because I’m a woman, they thought I must be married to the veteran, that I could not be the vet.”
Through the pain, Vee found solace in community. She became a part of various female veteran groups, where she was able to connect and be understood by her peers. Many of the veterans she encountered struggled with wanting more out of life after service.
In 2016, Vee and six other veterans began attending dance classes at their local dance studio, Rigsby’s Jig. Vee had always loved to dance, but in these classes, she was able to hone her talent. Her entire group fell in love with Latin dance.
“From then, on I was always dancing,” Vee said. “It makes me feel like I’m outside of myself and that I don’t have to worry about anything but that next step.”
The dance group’s enthusiasm soon turned into participating with the Veterans Creative Arts Festival at the local level, and after four years, they were selected to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in 2020.
“We just did our steps, got on our little jingle skirts, put flowers in our hair, and just went for it,” Vee said.
Though the event was virtual due to COVID-19 protocols, Vee found the online festivities both inspiring and engaging. She loved seeing the diverse talent of the participants and connecting with them through various activities throughout the week. But all in all, Vee knows it is the creation of the art that matters most.
“As veterans, we give up so much of ourselves and being able to express ourselves creatively helps us get ourselves back in balance,” Vee said.
“Many times, it can be a life-saver.”