ORLANDO, Fla. – After spending time in the Navy ROTC program at Boone High School, Veronika Tuskowski joined the Marines in July 2001 after her senior year.
She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do after high school, so she took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, also known as the ASVAB, and decided, “If I’m going to join, I want to join something that’s really challenging.”
She didn’t know what that new challenge would include. While in boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, 9/11 happened, and the world changed.
Tuskowski’s chosen Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, was as a combat journalist and public affairs.
After learning her “job” in the Marines, she left for her first deployment to Kuwait on her 21st birthday and found the new normal of donning chemical warfare gear every time a SCUD missile was launched toward them.
“Just fear of the unknown,” Tuskowski said about the experience.
Months later, she was in Iraq on her second deployment, frequently going on combat patrols and raids, documenting what she saw for the world to see. Tuskowski said she was one of the few women who was allowed outside of the gates of her base in Iraq.
This happened to be around the same time kidnappings and beheadings became common in the country. She learned that a large bounty was offered for the capture of a female member of the armed forces.
On one mission, she found herself and another female service member following an Army unit as they searched a home for weapons.
As the soldiers tore through the house, Tuskowski could feel the tension start to build.
“Obviously, the Iraqis were very upset because there was no translator at the time,” Tuskowski said.
While one of the members of the household berated Tuskowski, the Army unit left the home and stranded her and her female colleague.
She recalled being surrounded by a group of men – fear of the unknown.
They were able to escape the home and the men but became separated from the Army unit they were with. Luckily, they were able to find a group of Marines and were able to return to safety with them,
After serving two tours as a combat journalist, Tuskowski said, “Once I came home from war, I was pretty depressed and had PTSD.”
She moved back in with her parents.
One day, Tuskowski recalls her father saying, “Hey, why don’t you paint something?” while handing her a large canvas.
She said she spent the summer working on that piece of art, starting to be able to process what she was going through at the time.
“A lot of answers and life epiphanies just started to unfold, and I had that quiet space in my mind to process a lot of that stuff,” she said.
After being on sleeping medications and antidepressants, Tuskowski started learning about alternative therapies, but “art has been my main medicine,” she said.
“Being in the military, you’re only allowed to wear green, or desert cammie, or green cammie. So, I was just so excited to come back and paint whatever colors I wanted to because I wasn’t restricted,” Tuskowski said.
Tuskowski used her G.I. Bill from her time in the military to pursue a nursing education. After working in the field, she decided it wasn’t for her, but she still pursued that healing mindset while exploring alternative therapies like ketamine, ayahuasca and psilocybin.
In addition to her art, Tuskowski and two other female veterans started a nonprofit based out of Orlando called Visionary Veterans, which hosts holistic and wellness retreats and events for veterans.
“I’ve had really profound experiences,” Tuskowski recalls when speaking about her experiences with psychedelics and other alternative therapies.
Tuskowski hopes her female-led nonprofit brings a softer, more vulnerable side to healing.
You can learn more about the nonprofit and future events by clicking here.
Tuskowski describes her art – her main medicine – as experimental, visionary art.
You may have even seen some of Tuskowski‘s art and not even realized it. She painted murals at Universal Resort Orlando, including the Fast and Furious ride and a 17,000 square feet, 8-story tall mural at Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
“Painting has been a soul medicine for me, and I love painting and getting into that flow state,” she said.