‘Guitars for Veterans’ helps heroes heal through the power of music

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Nearly 1 million military veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sadly for some, the suffering can end in suicide. An average of 17 veterans took their own lives every day in 2019.

Luckily, some are now finding hope with the healing power of music. One veteran tells Eyewitness News that an acoustic guitar has brought him back to life.

“You just get lost in it. It’s just tremendously relaxing. It’s a peaceful place to be,” explained Bernie Kampf, a veteran and the instructor for Guitars for Vets.

The mission of Guitars for Vets is to mend minds through music. The organization assists veterans working through mental health issues after returning home from war.

“Each set of lessons is structured specifically for that particular veteran. And we give them a loaner guitar to take home and everything they need to practice for the ten weeks,” Kampf said.

Participants are set up with one-on-one lessons–earning a free guitar after 10 weeks. Following graduation, instructors encourage alumni to form guitar jam groups–getting them out of the house into a safe, supportive setting to help them continue to grow.

“You start playing a guitar, and you can feel it vibrating, you can feel things happening and it just helps you not think about anything else,” Kampf described.

Guitars For Vets Operations Director Bernie Kampf is a veteran himself and says all vets are welcome–whether they already have a background in music or if it’s their first time picking up a guitar.

“I’ve been doing this 10 years. I’m retired, I’m a veteran, I’ve been playing guitar all my life and I can’t think of anything better I’d rather do with my life right now,” he explained.

Marshall ‘Muddy’ Boyle served in the United States Marine Corps. He joined the organization after untreated mental health issues resulted in a brush with death. Boyle says music kept him alive.

“September of 2017 is when I drank myself to death. I was dead for three minutes and allowed to be alive. I wondered a long time why I was still alive, and it just kind of hit me that… so others may live,” Boyle said.

With service dog Lucy standing by for support, Muddy preserved through each lesson–receiving the coveted guitar/diploma and lifelong friendships at the finish line.

“You’re able to accomplish something, you’re able to be part of a team again, a group. When we were in the services we probably would have punched each other in the jaw, now we’re just like brothers,” Boyle added.

“To me, that’s what the program is all about. It’s not about making great players, it’s about giving people something positive to hold on to,” Kampf concluded.

To make a donation to Guitars for Vets, click here.

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