How Music Can Help Veterans with PTSD

A couple months ago, I went to see a Sister Hazel concert at the House of Blues in Cleveland. I grew up singing “All For You” and had even gotten into some of their newer music so I was excited for the show. The opener was a singer by the name of Joe Bachman whom I had never heard of. I was getting a drink at the bar when he started playing, and his music immediately turned my head. After his first couple songs I was a fan. After the end of his set (and a night out in Cleveland), I was a friend. He put on one of the best shows I’d ever seen, but the most powerful moment of an electric performance was when he played “A Soldier’s Memoir.”

Joe introduced the song with the story of how he was performing for a group of friends and military personnel in May of 2011, when a high ranking military official came on stage and asked him to announce Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces. It took some convincing because the news wasn’t public yet, but Joe obliged and the place erupted in cheers. Not long after that show, a psychologist friend of his who was also a member of the US Navy approached Joe and asked him write a song about PTSD. Joe again obliged and wrote a vivid and moving piece with his dear friend and Nashville Songwriter Mitch Rossell. I’ve never heard a concert venue go as quiet during a performance as when Joe started singing A Soldier’s Memoir at the HOB in Cleveland. The emotion in the air was tangible and by the end of the song, there was not a dry eye in the house. After listening to the song and having it tug on our collective heartstrings, everyone understood the gravity of PTSD.

Joe recently published a music video of A Soldier’s Memoir featuring US Military veterans. The video is designed to raise awareness about PTSD. There are 2.3M veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and 20% of them have PTSD, 19% have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and 7% have both. An average of one active duty service member takes his or her own life each day and an average of 22 military veterans commit suicide daily. Most of the active and former armed forces members who have committed suicide had PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly abbreviated to PTSD, is a debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after someone experiences a traumatic event. Those suffering from PTSD have recurring memories of the stressful events and feel helpless, anxious, or scared even in the absence of danger. Flashbacks to and nightmares about traumatic experiences torment people long after the events have passed. PTSD may also present with depression, self-blame, sleep disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and interpersonal difficulty.

PTSD has emerged after every war throughout history, but under varying names. Civil War veterans were said to be afflicted with “Soldiers Heart” upon returning from battle. Soldiers were said to suffer from “Combat Fatigue” or “Shell Shock” after World War I. In World War II, soldiers were said to suffer from “Battle Fatigue” or “Gross Stress Reaction.” PTSD gained notoriety as “Post Vietnam Syndrome” in soldiers returning from the Vietnam War, but it was not until 1980 when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was entered into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel, which defines psychological maladies.

Traumatic memories associated with PTSD are typically visually based fragments that emerge as a vivid whole when someone with PTSD is stimulated by similar sensory information to what occurred in the memory. A loud clap of the hands can cause such a flashback for a veteran because it resembles a gunshot. The flash of a camera may also prompt memories of combat because it is reminiscent of an explosion. These automatic neurological responses can make living a normal life difficult for someone suffering from PTSD, but there are ways to alleviate some of the pain.

Listening to or creating music activates the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive, sensorimotor, and emotional processing. While the cause is unknown, using music to engage of these parts of the brain has been shown to improve the psychological and physiological health of people suffering from PTSD.

Music heals the soul and can help veterans with PTSD in many ways. Joe Bachman’s single, “A Soldier’s Memoir” is a moving song that raises money for The Boot Campaign, which raises awareness for the perils that veterans with PTSD go through after returning from serving our country. The Boot Campaign raises funds for military programs meeting the physical and emotional needs of the nearly 50,000 American heroes injured in battle and the families of the 8,000 killed since 2001.

Please take a few minutes to watch the official video for A Soldier’s Memoir by my friend Joe Bachman, featuring Chris “Oz” Ferrara and Brian Walsh. You can donate to The Boot Campaign by purchasing A Soldier's Memoir on iTunes here. I also strongly recommend checking out the rest of Joe’s music here.

PTSD is a very real threat to those people who make extraordinary sacrifices to defend our country. Music won’t cure them all, but a song can soothe a weary soul and this song will help raise awareness so that our veterans can get the care they need. Please consider sharing it with your friends and family.


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