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Guitars for Vets Is Helping Military Families Heal One Guitar at a Time — Here’s How

“Our mission is simple: the healing power of music in the hands of heroes.”


When Vietnam veteran Dan Van Buskirk decided to take guitar lessons, he was shocked to find his PTSD symptoms improving. So he paired up with his music instructor, Patrick Nettesheim, to bring it to other vets by creating a nonprofit organization called Guitars for Vets. Keep reading to learn how the organization is changing thousands of lives with the magic of music. 

The Beginning of the Healing Musical Journey

Dan looked up at Patrick, with his eyes full of surprise. “I feel so calm,” the Vietnam War-era Marine said. It was a sensation that had sadly long eluded the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident after decades of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But after just one guitar lesson, he was noticing a marked drop in his anxiety. “It’s amazing!” he said, to Patrick’s elation. “We have to tell other veterans about this,” Dan exclaimed. “And I know exactly where to start.”

Their Path To Spreading Chords of Change

Dan suggested that the duo pay a visit to the nearby Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center to play for veterans there. But, the two had no way of knowing how it would change their own lives forever. As Patrick and Dan played, they saw the light return to the listeners’ eyes — some even inquired as to how they could take lessons themselves. Their impact was so transformative that Dan and Patrick were invited back. Soon after, they started Guitars for Vets to provide veterans suffering from physical injuries, PTSD, and stress a therapeutic alternative or 10 weeks of guitar instruction for free.

Angela Tunali, a Gulf War veteran, came across Guitars for Vets online in 2017 as she was struggling with PTSD and a painful divorce. For months, she had been staring at her guitar beckoning from the corner of her living room, but had no motivation to pick it up.

After getting approved for lessons at the local chapter in Nebraska, Angela felt a burgeoning hope. This hope grew when she met her instructor, Taylor Ullom, a US Air Force veteran who had played guitar for over 30 years and was the Director of Development at Guitars for Vets. Taylor’s position at Guitars for Vets was a catalyst for her own healing after serving, and her father’s death following the Vietnam War when she was three.

Angela was optimistic that the program could help her finally heal as it did for Taylor. As she continued her weekly lessons, Angela felt her whole mood and outlook brighten. This effect was so significant that after her graduation — wherein she received a donated guitar and accessory kit, Guitars For Vets’ gift to each graduate — she kept playing and attending monthly jam sessions. Plus, she even performed with Taylor’s band named Heartland Homefront.

“I have a good support system, meeting once a month with others who understand,” Angela said. “I’m grateful to have an outlet now instead of focusing so much on my challenges.”

Angela receiving graduation guitar
Angela (left), with her Guitars for Vets instructor, Taylor (right).Courtesy of Guitars for Vets

How Guitars for Vets Continues Transforming Lives With a Tune

Taylor has graduated 106 veterans through her local chapter, leads a team of 12 instructors, and raises visibility and funds for the organization through her band. For her, that’s what the program is all about — the music and the love.

“It provides an environment filled with support,” Taylor shared. “It healed some very deep wounds in my life and blessed me with connections and friendships I never imagined. It’s taught me that everybody can do something, no matter how big or small, to help others.”

To date, Guitars for Vets has helped thousands of veterans heal with more than 50,000 lessons and over 5,000 distributed acoustic guitars and accessory kits. The program, which is run by volunteers in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs and community medical centers across the country, is thriving. Because of this, Dan and Patrick have no plans to stop spreading the power of music to those who need it most.

“Our mission is simple: the healing power of music in the hands of heroes,” Dan and Patrick said. “When a veteran picks up a guitar and strums, they feel it resonate into the center of their being and it helps release those emotions and traumas,” Patrick explained. “That’s what drives Dan and me and our lifeblood of more than 500 volunteers forward — the music that we share is therapeutic and has the power to change so many lives!”

Angela and Taylor playing the guitar
Angela (right) practiced the guitar as a healing tool for 10 weeks with her instructor.Courtesy of Guitars for Vets

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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