Alan Harrison, E6 Boatswains Mate 1st Class, is a 21-year US Navy veteran who’s taking part in the Guitars for Vets program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Tim Evans
by Elianne Halbersberg
In the time it takes to read this story, another US serviceman or servicewoman will lose their life. It won’t be to an IED on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan. It will be to suicide on the battlefield of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression—right here at home. Every day, 19 soldiers take their own lives. Fifty percent of our homeless population is made up of veterans, and more than 250,000 veterans now suffer from PTSD. A 2004 Department of Defense study estimates that 17 to 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq “suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD.” And according to a 2008 report cited in Tears of a Warrior: A Family’s Story of Combat and Living with PTSD—a book the Veterans Administration uses in its PTSD treatment program— roughly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed since 2003.
It’s easy to slap a “Support Our Troops” magnet on the back of a vehicle to show solidarity in times of deployment, but where is that support when these men and women come home physically and emotionally broken? Where do they turn when society is not informed or empathetic enough to understand their state of mind, or when they are shamed into silence by the stigma of “mental illness”?
These are crucial questions too often left both unasked and unanswered. However, two guitarists with their hearts in the right place are doing their best to make a difference. Guitar instructor Patrick Nettesheim and guitar-playing Vietnam War veteran Dan Van Buskirk decided to take matters into their own hands by creating Guitars for Vets (G4V), a unique form of music therapy they’re taking to VA medical centers.
Founded in 2008, Guitars for Vets is a nonprofit that provides six free, one-on-one guitar lessons and a new acoustic guitar to veterans in recovery. Its mission is simple: Turn the guitar into a source of healing, communication, and self-expression. Veterans enrolled in the program receive their own new Oscar Schmidt acoustic guitar at their sixth lesson, and thereafter they can continue learning through group lessons. G4V began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but has chapters in several other states—as well as one in Afghanistan—and it’s receiving requests from VA centers across the country. Six strings at a time, it’s working miracles