Local nonprofit fights veteran suicides with music

Posted at 10:06 PM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-02 00:06:11-04
Thousands of our veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. More troops have committed suicide since the Vietnam War than have died in war. But for some, hope is being found behind the wood and strings of a guitar. 
Every Monday night, a group of veterans gathers at the VA in Boise to play guitar and talk about life.
With this group of heroes, it is not about how good you are, it is about changing your tune. 
They are all different veterans, from different wars, who suffer from PTSD, physical injuries or other emotional distress. They use music as a form of healing. 
"When I get stressed out, I'll pick up my guitar and strum for a little bit, maybe 5 or 10 minutes, and it relieves the tension," said Lynn Ward, graduate of Guitars for Vets and Vietnam veteran. 
The program is called Guitars for Vets, and Boise is just one chapter of more than 60 different branches of the nonprofit across the United States, hoping to chip away at the 22 veteran suicides each day.  
"I have a waiting list of veterans that want to take this class because it is so popular, and it has helped so much," said Steven Walker, coordinator for Boise's Guitars for Vets.
Each week the veterans get an hour-long one-on-one guitar lesson.
Once practice is over, they get to take the guitar home with them to practice their skills. 
"Some of them have never picked up a guitar in their life. So, we have all different levels of talent that come in here," said Walker.
After they complete the course, they graduate and receive their very own brand new guitar. Many bring those guitars  back every Monday to jam with other graduates of the program.  
"We encourage everybody to keep coming back on Mondays, even if they graduate, just keep coming," said Ward. "It's sort of fun when you get a whole bunch of guys together and practice and play."
The program has already graduated 12 students, and the hope is to keep adding more names to the list of graduates and less to those who have taken their own life.
"It's just a good group of guys to be around, you know. Everybody is trying to get in the same line of stuff, you know, practice and play. There are a few of us in there that still don't know what we are doing, but we have good instructors," said Ward.
It's not just the students that the program is helping. It's even beneficial to the instructors.
"I will tell you some of my instructors have had their own issues and thought that their life was over -- that they've got nothing to contribute anymore. Now they are  helping out fellow veterans, and it has just turned them around, and it's giving them purpose," said Walker.
It's that sense of purpose that keeps these veterans coming back for more every Monday.
"My favorite part is seeing veterans that have been isolating for years coming out and being part of a group and getting on stage smiling and laughing when they probably wouldn't be here today if it were not for something like this."
To learn more about the program, how to donate, or to get involved click here.