ST. LOUIS – From taking shelter to taking the stage, Wednesday was the first night of the Veterans Association’s Got Talent showcase. Now in its 43rd year, the event is changing lives and perspectives for those who’ve sacrificed for our country.

More than helping veterans step into their creativity, local organizations are aiding in a suicide trend that’s started to decline.

“Sometimes you just can’t say what you can sing; you just can’t say what you can write; you just can’t say what you can show,” said Dr. Danielle Cobbs, who works in the Occupational Therapy Department for the VA.

“There’s a camaraderie between veterans that nobody else can really understand, and we get to have that when we are here,” said Marine Corps veteran Mike Vassel.

From combat to camaraderie, it’s a form of expression and healing.

“My era of Vietnam was not the kind to come home to,” Vassel said.

But Vassel did come home but not without some struggles.

“A lot of my health issues are related to service-related issues,” he said.

From diabetes to coronary artery disease, there was a point in time when Vassel was nearly immobile due to Agent Orange.

“Something that they sprayed in the jungle to kill all the foliage, and it got into the water systems, and it was in the groundwater. We showered in it. It was terrible,” he said.

But on Wednesday, a room full of veterans sat inside the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital with similar stories.

“When veterans have the opportunity to communicate in an art form, it can be very healing,” Cobbs said.

The veterans affairs specialist says events like this encourage soldiers to step into their art sense, helping to support a decreasing trend of veteran suicide deaths.

“Having them sing, dance, do drama; this is their opportunity to do that,” Cobbs said.

From 2018 to 2022, that number took a downward slope, according to a veteran suicide prevention report.

“I love singing,” Vassel said. “I’m gonna be singing a song that was recorded by Michael Bubble called Moondance.”