Kraft Music, Yamaha Corporation of America, and Guitars for Vets Collaborate to Help Veterans Cope with PTSD

by Charlie Banks • in
  • January 2019
• Created: January 23, 2019

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Dan Van Buskirk, a Vietnam War vet, had always been interested in learning how to play the guitar, but was concerned that his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might make it impossible. But in 2006, he decided to start lessons and was referred to Patrick Nettesheim, a Milwaukee guitar instructor. At their first meeting, Van Buskirk shared his concerns. “He told me he had a hard time remembering things and that sometimes, even coming in for a lesson would be difficult,” Nettesheim recalled. “So, we started out just talking – he about the war and me about making a living as a musician. As we talked, I’d show him how to make first one chord and then another, and we took it from there.”

In just a few months, playing guitar became Van Buskirk’s way of self-soothing when he awoke in the middle of the night in a panic. As important, it helped build his self-esteem and confidence.

He suggested that Nettesheim join him at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee to play for the vets there. Their impromptu performance was a big hit and became the catalyst to create Guitars for Vets (G4V) as a way to help the increasing number of returning veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

Indeed, roughly 20 percent of U.S. service members deployed in the last six years have developed the condition, and since the Vietnam War, more U.S. veterans have committed suicide as a result of PTSD than have actually died in combat. “I learned that when vets returned home, what they missed most was the sense of camaraderie in the military, the teamwork and common mission,” Nettesheim said. “You drift into a whole different state when playing the guitar, and it helps re-establish a feeling of connection. Playing and performing music gives the vets a way to heal and cope with their condition.”

The G4V concept was simple: a veteran would go through a free 10-week music instruction period and then receive a brand-new acoustic guitar upon graduation.

The program steadily grew, and in 2012, Nettesheim knew he needed some outside help to accommodate all the vets that wanted to participate. He contacted his old friend Ben Kraft, owner, operator and son of the founder of Kraft Music in Franklin, Wisconsin, just outside Milwaukee. “I’d known Patrick for quite a long time,” Kraft said. “He actually taught at one of my dad’s stores. We began talking about Guitars for Vets, and after learning about the program, I definitely wanted to help. He needed warehouse space and a more efficient way of shipping guitars. I had extra space at the time and the capability of becoming their distribution arm. Managing all the logistics – acquiring, packing, tracking and shipping – allows G4V to do what they do best: garner support for the country’s unsung heroes.”

“Ben actually joined our board of directors, and one of the first things he told me was that he could get us better-quality guitars than the ones we had been using,” Nettesheim said. “And that is when Yamaha came on board. The company is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments and a huge supporter of music education, and they have been providing us with their top-selling guitars at dealer cost ever since then.”

“Nowhere is the healing power of music more evident than in the Guitars for Vets program,” said David Jewell, marketing communications manager at Yamaha Corporation of America. “Patrick discovered that playing guitar helped ease PTSD symptoms in returning vets, allowing them to redirect their bad memories toward making music. Through our dealer, Kraft Music, Yamaha to date has supplied more than 3,000 new guitars to G4V to assist in their mission.”

Kraft said that working with G4V has been gratifying for his entire team. “Most of our staff are musicians, and everyone gets a little pep in their step when working on a shipment of G4V guitars. This program is now built into our business model – it’s in our DNA to help this program grow.”

Recently, Kraft noted, there was a front-page article about G4V in the local Milwaukee Sentinel. “A couple of days later Patrick called, saying he was going to a local assisted-living facility and needed a guitar for a World War II vet with Alzheimer’s. It seems the man had been carrying the article around the facility for days. The staff was baffled and called his family to see if they knew why this story meant so much to him. The family explained that he used to be a jazz guitarist. When Patrick gave the old vet the guitar, he gently placed his fingers on the frets. It was like the movie ‘Awakenings’ – slowly he started strumming, remembering chords, and his deep understanding of music came back.”

“This story is a perfect example of how music positively affects us,” Nettesheim said. “Now we have science to back up what we already knew. Clinical trial data from a recently completed pilot study showed remarkable improvements in PTSD symptoms, supporting our belief in the importance of what we do.”

Nettesheim is quick to point out that G4V volunteers are not therapists. “When I talk to volunteers, I tell them the requirements are to know basic chords and have a sense of music. But most important is having patience, acceptance, gratitude and empathy.”

Van Buskirk added, “We wouldn’t practice discord on a musical instrument. We practice harmony, and as we practice harmony on a musical instrument, we practice it in our lives. Music can bring peace and kindness and compassion. And that helps replace the fear and distress and anxiety that comes from being a survivor of a war.”

G4V currently operates more than 90 chapters in 40 states nationwide with the assistance of nearly 400 volunteers. Nettesheim estimates there will be 100 chapters by Veterans Day and G4V will be represented in all 50 states by next year.

In addition to their U.S. operations, the organization has plans to go international with services for U.S. allies and veterans abroad. Two chapters for Australian Defense Force veterans with PTSD were recently started, and there is similar interest from British and Israeli veterans as well as U.S. service members in Germany and Costa Rica.

For more information, visit the following organizations online:

Kraft Music: www.kraftmusic.com

Guitars for Vets: www.guitars4vets.org

Yamaha Corporation of America: usa.yamaha.com

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