For Vietnam Veteran Steve Young, teaching a guitar therapy and songwriting class to Veterans isn’t simply a gig, it’s his life’s calling.

Young first enrolled in VA health care in 1999 and that’s when he also started volunteering at VA. Seeing the need for music therapy programs, Young, a professional music teacher, started offering Veterans free guitar lessons. If the Veteran didn’t have a guitar, he would get them one for free.

He first offered free guitars and lessons in 2010, but after working with the Veterans and their case workers, he realized he could do more.

People should hear their amazing stories

“I found out that as part of rehabilitation for Veterans suffering from PTSD, in their group therapy programs, they would write down their thoughts and read them to the class,” said Young. “I thought these are amazing stories that people should hear about. I thought it would be a good idea to do something creative as opposed to just writing down these words, saying them to the class and then putting them away. That’s when I started the songwriting class.”

“I’ve seen amazing changes in the students in my class.”

Young developed a nine-month guitar therapy and song-writing program at the Providence VA to help Veterans suffering with anger-management issues and PTSD.

“The program started in 2018 and it has been great for the Veterans,” said Donna Russillo, chief of Community Development and Civic Engagement. “If a Veteran is having a particularly bad day, the whole class will stop to help that Veteran. They’ve become a family.”

Album of songs written and performed by Vets

In addition to providing a creative outlet for Veterans, Young wanted the public to hear the Veteran’s stories. That’s when he approached Russillo with the idea of professionally recording his students’ songs and producing an album.

The album, Veterans Opus, consists entirely of songs written and performed by the Veterans except for one that a Veteran didn’t feel comfortable performing, so someone else performed it for her.

“I’ve seen amazing changes in the students in my class. I’ve had a number of them tell me they don’t like being around other people. They don’t like going out in public but they never miss my class,” said Young. “I’ve even had students who started bringing in family members for comfort. Those family members have told me how much of a difference this program has made for their Veteran.”

Young’s end goal is to get all VA Medical Centers to adopt this program. “There are other programs out there that give free guitars for Veterans for therapy. I believe it’s not therapy if it’s not addressing the Veteran’s personal situation,” he said. “That’s what’s different about this program. VA clinicians and case workers are involved to ensure the students referred to this program will actually benefit from it.”

By Russell Tippets is a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran and the public affairs officer at the New England VA.

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Published on Mar. 20, 2022

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

Views to date: 1,351


  1. depapers April 3, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    As a Veteran, I was struggling to pay for guitar lessons. So I took a chance and put in the time to teach myself how to play, and I’m glad that I did! Now after checking out Steve Young’s free guitar lessons, I am able to play some basic chords.

  2. Dr. LeRoy Henry March 30, 2022 at 9:08 pm

    I am a retired navy guitarist. I have a doctorate in education, I am a Berklee College of Music student in my last class (2 credit hours), and also a graduate of the Navy School of music. My former teachers include Pat Martino, Wolf Marshall, Bertram Turetsky, Dr. Lee Eubank, & Barry Breene.

  3. Melvin Barton March 24, 2022 at 11:34 pm

    Are these free guitar classes available in the Seattle-Tacoma Washington area? Plus where would I get a free guitar for these’s classes?

  4. Patrick Patterson March 23, 2022 at 6:47 pm

    I will have to see if they have any guitar classes at the West Haven VAMC in West Haven, Connecticut. I have a guitar but have have arthritis real bad.

    • Dr. LeRoy Henry March 30, 2022 at 9:16 pm

      There is a book called Isometrics for guitarists.

  5. Holly C March 23, 2022 at 11:12 am

    I would be interested in teaching an art class online but I have no clue how to do a podcast or a zoom?

  6. George March 22, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    How can I help?
    I play saxophone.

  7. Steven G. Young March 22, 2022 at 12:00 pm

    For information and how to contact me about this program, go to Veterans Opus on facebook. Steve Young

  8. Manuel A Bravo Sr March 22, 2022 at 12:53 am

    is this available in charlotte nc

  9. Jim monko March 21, 2022 at 9:51 pm

    I played the Alto Sax in 5th and 6th grade. Wish the VA had a class for sax in the Harrisburg area of PA? I know there is a program for vets like this in Erie Pa. Not logical for me to travel to Erie for. A sax lesson.I am musical and can play the harmonica. Just wish I could learn how to play the alto sax again.

  10. Brenda Grindheim March 21, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    Hook us up in Portland/Vancouver please

  11. Ray Grimm March 21, 2022 at 6:44 pm


    Correction to my previous comment.

  12. Ray Grimm March 21, 2022 at 6:42 pm

    I looked into this last year and unfortunately the program wasn’t available in Geirgia. I hope the program will expand in more states!

    • Jesse Cheadle March 22, 2022 at 8:38 am

      There is a Guitar for Vets at the Charlie Norwood Uptown Division VA in Augusta Georgia.

  13. Chris Bethea March 21, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    How can I enroll, I want to pick it up again.

  14. Carl Rhoda March 21, 2022 at 6:22 pm

    I love the concept. I use to garden as my therapy but moved to an area where gardening is very difficult. If there is an artist out there that could give art classes by zoom or by video I would be interested

  15. Ervin Rafael Gutierrez March 21, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Do a podcast/link so its available to everyone…I’d sign up and im sure a ton of others would.

  16. Ervin Rafael Gutierrez March 21, 2022 at 5:07 pm

    DO A PODCAST/LINK and make it available for everyone! I’d sign up!

  17. Lydia Wilson March 21, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    Is this available in Conroe TX or Houston TX or San Antonio TX I have Family there and this would be great for them. Thank You & God Bless You for Everything you are doing.

  18. Dale Hannasch March 21, 2022 at 11:21 am

    How to Enroll?

  19. Edmund A. Roscoe March 21, 2022 at 11:09 am

    G4V, a program for vets with PTSD was offered through the VA and some musicians in Fairmont and Morgantown, WV. Worked great for me. I still play for enjoyment after 2 years.

  20. Daniel Kibbee March 21, 2022 at 2:07 am

    I’d love to learn to play guitar and write a song. They don’t offer anything like that at our CBOC in Bakersfield CA . And I haven’t been able to slow my mind down in over 40 yrs. Ha, nervous energy , should be a way to harness it. Sounds like a great program.

    • Robert R Rubio March 21, 2022 at 9:07 pm

      Damn dude,I was just passing through Bakersfield in December, I do some Drumming, would of ben a blast to just jam together!

      Robert R Rubio
      Desrt Storm veteran

  21. Douglas Finck March 20, 2022 at 9:58 pm

    How do i get a free guitar ?

    • Michael Lazarus March 21, 2022 at 10:49 am

      Where do I sign up? I have me a git-tar, I just need to learn how to it

  22. Kerry "Doc" Pardue March 20, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    Is this available in Phoenix?

Comments are closed.

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