Helping Veterans Heal Through Guitar Lessons

Acoustic guitar fretboard strings melody music song
Acoustic guitar fretboard strings melody music song

In 2007, Patrick Nettesheim, a Milwaukee guitar instructor was introduced to Vietnam-era Marine, Dan Van Buskirk. For years Dan wanted to learn to play guitar but felt the lasting effects of combat, in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), would make it difficult for him to succeed. After only a few months of working with Patrick, Dan discovered that the strong spirit that helped him throughout his time in Vietnam was all he needed to play music. Together, the men realized that guitar lessons were both opportunities for self-expression and positive human interaction. Dan and Patrick shared what they learned with Veterans at The Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center and Guitars for Vets was born.

Now, with more than 20,000 lessons given since their inception, Guitars for Vets has grown to more than 60 chapters in 30 states nationwide. The organization has had a tremendous effect on its students. To continue the healing process, a free guitar and guitar accessory kit is given to students upon graduation. To date more than 2,000 free guitars have been given out to veterans.

The VA says that 11-20% of veterans who served in the Iraq war were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more soldiers have committed suicide since the Vietnam War than have died in actual battle. Studies have shown that music lessons reduce depression and improve the quality of life and health of students. The beauty of Guitars for Vets, is that for some, learning to play a musical instrument in a group setting provides the relaxation and social connection they desire, while for others, opening up about their own trauma is appropriately shared within a safe, supervised group of understanding Veteran peers.

The weekly guitar lessons provided by volunteers are individualized and designed to help students learn at their own pace. Monthly group sessions are organized at each chapter to provide Veterans a communal atmosphere to talk and continue to play music with peers who have shared similar experiences. In group sessions, the connection created between individuals who are both warriors AND guitar players serves as a catalyst for positive human interaction. Veterans who regularly attend group sessions build confidence to further pursue creative self-expression and engagement within their communities.

Some Guitars for Vets graduates and group session attendees even go on to perform at local fundraisers and teach guitar lessons in their local chapter. Lessons are given primarily through the Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and community-based medical centers.

Guitars for Vets is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers that seeks to share the healing power of music with veterans in as many locations as possible. For more information, including how to enroll in classes, start a local chapter, or how to offer support, please visit the GuitarsforVets website.


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