Michael Ounjian

The Department of Veterans Affairs

Rehab R&D Service

presents Michael J. Ounjian's painting of the
"French Red House"
as the 2004 cover for

The Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development

Cover art for 2004
For the third consecutive year, the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD) proudly features on its cover artwork entered into the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival competition. By showcasing artwork submitted to the Creative Arts Festival, JRRD recognizes the sacrifices veterans have made, while acknowledging the important role art therapy plays in their rehabilitation.

“French Red House,” featured on this year’s cover, culminates four years of occupational therapy for Michael Ounjian, a veteran who served in the Navy from 1969 to 1972. In 1999, Michael had a massive stroke, paralyzing his right side and causing him to lose speech. Overnight, his life changed. Michael—a photographer whose career spanned three decades—had to accept his disability and find a means of communicating with the world. His therapist thought painting might be a familiar expressive outlet. However, Michael faced one major challenge in his quest to learn the fine art of painting: He was right-handed. Through weekly rehabilitation sessions, Michael not only learned to paint with his left hand but also discovered a natural talent.

“He has a good eye for composition and rearrangement,” said Irene Dobrushken, a volunteer art teacher with the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System Sepulveda campus, California. “Though Michael started a year ago, he still continues to learn and is receptive to the arts to facilitate communication.”

Michael’s love of the visual arts was sparked during his military service, traveling to places such as Hong Kong, Germany, and Spain photographing Naval history. For his photographic skill, Michael won the Military Photographer of the Year Award and others honors. Michael transferred his skill and experience as a military photographer to a civilian career as a studio photographer. In 1994, Michael made a dream come true by opening his own studio, photographing weddings, portraits, architecture, and landscapes.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is the culmination of a yearlong fine arts competition open to all veterans receiving care at VA medical facilities. This year, 2,903 veterans from 103 VA facilities and 44 states competed in music, drama, dance, and the visual arts. Through self-expression in VA’s recreational programs, veterans heal both body and mind, while discovering a new avocation.