Army Veteran Michael Peterson, who gets his health care at Richmond VA Medical Center, was able to turn his heartache into song on a visit to Nashville, Tenn. Peterson joined nine other Veterans from the VA Mid-Atlantic Heath Care Network in a three-day songwriting workshop presented by Operation Song, a nonprofit organization that offers an avenue for active duty military, Veterans and their families to tell their story through songwriting.
Peterson, who served in Operation Desert Storm, says the workshop helped him greatly in his daily struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
“We as leaders often forget about ourselves,” Peterson said. “The problem I had about two years, well, it all basically blew up in my face. I’m six foot three, 250 plus pounds, but it broke me down like a baby. Since I’ve been going to the VA, it’s just been great to be a part of music therapy, to come here, share my story and not be judged. I can actually talk with someone and feel comfortable.”
“Magical musical moments”
During the retreat, each Veteran was paired with a professional songwriter. As they visited Nashville recording studios together, the Veterans shared their military experiences with the writers, who pulled out themes from the stories and worked with the Veterans to turn them into songs. On the last day, the entire group presented their new works in concert. Peterson’s, created with workshop partner Jason Sever, is titled “Give ‘Em Time”:
So maybe you’ve got problems, and you’re doing your best to solve ‘em.
You give ‘em blood, give ‘em sweat, give ‘em tears.
Funny thing ‘bout problems, is we forget that we all got ‘em.
Some take months, some take minutes, some take years.
You gotta give ‘em time.
“Through this wonderful songwriting experience, the inner thoughts and feelings of our Veterans were able to be fully shared in a very powerful and meaningful way,” said Richmond VA music therapist Hope Kumme. “I call them ‘magical musical moments.’ They created new and meaningful relationships with each other and with the professional singer-songwriters and Operation Song staff.”
“I still struggle most days with heartache,” Peterson said. “But I’m now able to manage a little better, knowing I’m loved by others who care about me. It’s okay to express how I’m feeling and not keep life’s burdens inside.”
Megan Kon is a public affairs specialist at the Central Virginia VA Health Care System. She has served Veterans for almost six years within VHA and is a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Photos courtesy Hope Kumme.