U.S. Army Veteran Ronald Williams takes his first
guitar lesson with instructor David Champlin as part of Guitar for Vets.
The program provides 10 lessons and an acoustic guitar to the Veteran
free of charge.
Each Tuesday morning in the Community
Living Center Relaxation Room of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical
Center, the gentle sounds of strumming guitars can be heard as
inpatients learn to play.
Guitars for Vets is a non-profit
organization that provides 10 individual guitar lessons to Veterans
struggling with physical injuries or emotional distress. Once lessons
have been completed, the Veteran receives a free acoustic guitar.
The program is a great way to get patients out of their rooms and interacting with others.
was pretty-much staying in bed, except for physical therapy,” said Army
Veteran Ronald Williams. “I was bummed out about the whole situation.
My ability to walk had diminished and I was just sitting in my room
trying to be positive.”
While in his room, Williams was visited
by Art Therapist Sheryl Corbit who spoke about various activities
available to Veterans. Williams was sold when she mentioned guitar
“I toyed with it once,” he said. “I may as well try again.”
used to play guitar left-handed, but a surgery to fuse his right wrist
left him with limited dexterity in his fingering hand. Now, the
determined Veteran is trying to learn to play right-handed.
“Everything in my brain wants to go the other way,” he said. “It’s amazing how much I am going to have to relearn.”
are taught basic chords and songs. One of the first songs they learn is
Amazing Grace, which provides a good foundation.
“Playing the guitar is relaxing, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps to alleviate depression,” said Corbit.
certainly was the case for Army Veteran Guadalupe Alvarado, who has
been an inpatient for 14 months. He said the program has been
instrumental in getting him out of his room to socialize with his fellow
Veterans. Alvarado, a program graduate, often shows up in the
Relaxation Room to watch others receive a lesson. It’s a chance for him
to reinforce what he already has learned.
“I like to hear a little bit more,” he said. “The more I learn, the more I can play.”
Alvarado got involved in Guitars for Vets because he, too, found himself spending too much time alone in his room.
got depressed from being lonely all of the time,” he said. “That’s why I
got involved with this program and other art therapy programs. It’s
nice to have someone to talk to.”
Corbit said she tries to invite everyone on the inpatient floor to join either her art group or Guitars for Vets.
see the Vets coming to the group and their attitude seems to lighten
and improve,” she said. “Not only are they learning, but they seem to
feel good about themselves. It improves their self-esteem.”
sure lit up when the guitar was placed into his hands. Even though the
natural lefty is having to relearn everything, he remains excited for
“The important thing is to play as good as you
can and have fun,” he said. “I made some progress after one lesson. I
can already see what is possible.”