Guitar for Vets program in suburban Chicago heals PTSD and prevents suicide

The power of music is healing local veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Their instrument of choice is the guitar, and it all began 12 years ago with a Midwest non-profit.

To date, they have struck a chord with thousands of veterans.

Marine veteran Marshall Boyle, or “Muddy” as his friends call him, suffers from PTSD. 

"If you're struggling with mental health, PTSD, suicide, self-medicating, when you have that light when you have hope and music you can go anywhere,” said Muddy.

For Muddy, hope came in the form of six strings. This summer he graduated from the “Guitars for Vets” program at the Hines VA

Bernie Kampf is his instructor. 

"I see how people are happier, or at least they have a mechanism to achieve some kind of peace and happiness with their guitar after they're done,” said Kampf. 

That’s the basis of the free program. Students receive 10 one-on-one lessons. When they graduate, they are given a new guitar and all the accessories. 

"I had one student after 10 weeks he could only play 10 chords, and we sat right here, he was in his wheelchair, had a lot of problems, but we sat here just strumming two chords for a half an hour and we both had tears in our eyes,” said Kampf. “I'm getting choked up now thinking about it, but that's how you measure success." 

Muddy is another sign of success. In just a few short months, he has become an ambassador for the program.

In November of 2019, graduates hosted a concert at the Chicago Music Exchange. 

Muddy was front and center. 

“The most amazing part of me being here is me being here,” said Muddy. “I'm a survivor of a suicide attempt. It literally got me out of bed when I had a hard time getting myself out of bed. For those of us who get it, that goes right down to your soul, I mean you can literally feel it resonating and reverberating through the guitar." 

To date, close to 250 men and women have graduated from the Hines VA program. 

Today, some of those graduates have come together for a monthly jam session. You can see it's about more than just the music. 

"When we get together it's just about doing our best to make music, sometimes it sounds good, it's pleasing, sometimes it doesn't,” said Muddy. 

“It's cathartic, I never knew I could do this, I can do this?” said Kampf. “The positive feelings that you get out of being able to accomplish something, that's what drives us." 

The “Guitars for Vets” program is entirely funded by corporate and private donations. A Milwaukee guitar instructor and his student, a Vietnam-era Marine, started it in 2007.