For Vietnam Veteran Steve Young, teaching a guitar therapy and songwriting class to Veterans isn’t simply a gig, it’s his life’s calling.
Young first enrolled in VA health care in 1999 and that’s when he also started volunteering at VA. Seeing the need for music therapy programs, Young, a professional music teacher, started offering Veterans free guitar lessons. If the Veteran didn’t have a guitar, he would get them one for free.
He first offered free guitars and lessons in 2010, but after working with the Veterans and their case workers, he realized he could do more.
People should hear their amazing stories
“I found out that as part of rehabilitation for Veterans suffering from PTSD, in their group therapy programs, they would write down their thoughts and read them to the class,” said Young. “I thought these are amazing stories that people should hear about. I thought it would be a good idea to do something creative as opposed to just writing down these words, saying them to the class and then putting them away. That’s when I started the songwriting class.”
“I’ve seen amazing changes in the students in my class.”
Young developed a nine-month guitar therapy and song-writing program at the Providence VA to help Veterans suffering with anger-management issues and PTSD.
“The program started in 2018 and it has been great for the Veterans,” said Donna Russillo, chief of Community Development and Civic Engagement. “If a Veteran is having a particularly bad day, the whole class will stop to help that Veteran. They’ve become a family.”
Album of songs written and performed by Vets
In addition to providing a creative outlet for Veterans, Young wanted the public to hear the Veteran’s stories. That’s when he approached Russillo with the idea of professionally recording his students’ songs and producing an album.
The album, Veterans Opus, consists entirely of songs written and performed by the Veterans except for one that a Veteran didn’t feel comfortable performing, so someone else performed it for her.
“I’ve seen amazing changes in the students in my class. I’ve had a number of them tell me they don’t like being around other people. They don’t like going out in public but they never miss my class,” said Young. “I’ve even had students who started bringing in family members for comfort. Those family members have told me how much of a difference this program has made for their Veteran.”
Young’s end goal is to get all VA Medical Centers to adopt this program. “There are other programs out there that give free guitars for Veterans for therapy. I believe it’s not therapy if it’s not addressing the Veteran’s personal situation,” he said. “That’s what’s different about this program. VA clinicians and case workers are involved to ensure the students referred to this program will actually benefit from it.”