Walter Donaldson, Charles Williams and Steve Munafo are part of the Detroit VAMC’s Victory Band, which was formed by the Mental Health Service’s psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery center as an alternative type of therapy for patients.
VA’s Victory Band at the Detroit medical center began to take shape a year and a half ago, out of the need for a particular type of therapy for Veterans with various mental illnesses.
“These were Veterans in our psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery center ,” said Dr. Michelle Abela, a psychologist at the Detroit VA Healthcare System. “In this unique program, we are focused on recovery and rehabilitation, not just treatment. We see everything from PTSD to severe depression and schizophrenia.”
Dr. Abela said that staff members were brainstorming ways to help their patients, when a Veteran in the program recommended starting a band.
“We had been thinking about ways to incorporate music into our program,” she said. “We know music can offer a number of benefits, so this seemed like a good concept.”
From right to left, keyboardist Daniel Beever, Lloyd Cooley, Steve Munafo and Charles Williams – all Veterans – comprise Detroit’s Victory Band. Some band members had never picked up a musical instrument before getting involved with the band.
The suggestion came from Army Veteran Daniel Beever, now the band’s keyboard player, who served in Germany during Vietnam. “I’ve made new friends and it’s helped me out greatly,” he said, “and it makes me happy to entertain my fellow Vets.”
The staff in the mental health service knew they needed some musical insight to get things rolling.
“That’s when Matt Thomas, Steve Munafo and their ‘Jam for Vets Project’ stepped in,” said Dr. Abela. “Not only did they help provide the instruments and the music, but they offered to teach some of these great heroes how to play!”
“We heard about the idea to form the Victory Band, and knew we had to get involved,” said Steve Munafo. “The whole idea of helping Veterans cope with their illnesses through music was something I was confident in. I see the positive effects on these guys and it’s so incredibly rewarding.”
Dr. Abela believes music can do wonderful things for Veterans who are living with illnesses. She describes it as a powerful influence that can help them with their coping skills, stress management, expressing feelings, leadership and team building. “We have seen some amazing changes in these Veterans,” she said. “They are so enthusiastic when it comes to their twice-a-week rehearsals, along with the opportunity to perform in front of people. It’s truly eye-opening.”
Some of the Veterans in Detroit’s Victory Band had never even read a musical note before joining the band.
“We couldn’t have ‘put the band together,’as they say, without the help of Jam for Vets,” said Bill Browning, chief of voluntary service and community relations at the medical center. “We have a great partnership with this extraordinary organization. They hold performances often here at the medical center for patients in all of our areas, including hospice and our outpatient clinics.”
The Victory Band performs in the atrium of the medical center on the first Monday of each month. Their next performance is April 7, from 1 – 2 p.m.
For more information on the band, visit the Detroit VAMC page. or you can learn more about Jam for Vets.http://www.jamforvets.org/index.html to learn more about Jam for Vets.
Alysse Mengason is a public affairs officer with the Detroit VA Healthcare System