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Guitars for Vets

Jul. 2, 2014
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Co-founded in 2007 by Patrick Nettesheim and Dan Van Buskirk, Guitars for Vets (G4V) is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit giving back to men and women who have served our country. The program, which has more than 40 chapters in 20 states and has served hundreds of veterans in Milwaukee and well over 2,000 nationally, offers veterans 10 free private guitar lessons and, upon completion, a free Yamaha FG700S guitar with a gig bag that includes an extra set of strings, picks, an electric guitar tuner, a peg winder, a strap and guitar stand. Off the Cuff sat down with Nettesheim, G4V ambassador, to talk more about giving back to our nation’s heroes.


Can you tell me how G4V was founded?

I am by nature a guitar player, a performer and a guitar teacher, which I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. Dan, who is a Vietnam vet with PTSD, was referred to me by a mutual friend at Cream City Music. It was Dan’s idea to take this program to the VA in Milwaukee. I had stopped into Cream City Music before going to the VA and was talking to the owner, who has a connection with his father as a veteran of the Korean War. So he said, “You know, here’s a couple guitars. Why don’t you give them as gifts?” So Dan and I went to the VA and we played for a couple of the folks in spinal rehab and they just lit up, especially when we gave away the guitars. But it was also quite apparent that just giving somebody a guitar is like giving somebody a plane and them not knowing how to fly. So that’s where the teaching element began. The war experience and the PTSD can certainly have a great effect on somebody’s self-esteem. I see this process of learning guitar as a confidence builder. I told Dan, “Let’s make this a nonprofit. We can give guitars to vets.” So that’s how we co-founded the company.


Did you ever imagine it would get so big?

I did. There are over 25 million veterans in the United States and it’s estimated that 300,000 have PTSD. So I knew the demand, the need, was so great. The thing that I did not expect is how difficult it is to raise money to do something like this. Financial backers are crucial.


How can a veteran become a part of the program?

Candidates for this program are referred to us by their health care providers at the VA. A local chapter coordinator contacts the veteran and he/she will pair them up with a volunteer instructor. Some cities have a long waiting list. That is because we have a shortage of volunteers—we are always accepting volunteers.


Recently you conducted a study on the psychological outcome of this novel music therapy. What were the results?

The results of the pilot study were good. When you look at the figures, it indicates a high probably that this could save a lot of money in healthcare costs. The study basically was to prove the efficacy of guitars for vets as an adjunct treatment. What we do can be seen as therapeutic, but we are not music therapists. We’re trying to prove the therapeutic nature of what we do. (To see the study, visit www.guitars4vets.org.)


What is most rewarding about being part of Guitars for Vets?

It’s healing the world through music. What better utilization of the talent that I have and all the volunteers have than to bring those who are in pain some windows of serenity once again and help them find their joy. Guitars for Vets can help soften the heart. It’s an actual practice of loving kindness. And we’re building community with our guitars and I believe that peace eventually will come to this world via the experience of our warriors because their understanding of the brutality of war is very deep and very troubling.


How can the community contribute to the program?

Cream City Music in Brookfield (12505 W. Bluemound Road) is an official drop-off point for G4V donations. We take acoustic and electric guitars in any condition, and anything else music related. And guitars that cannot be repaired or that are broken are given to artists and turned into art through our program we call “Art Strings,” a division of Guitars for vets.


For more information, visit www.guitars4vets.org or call 855-G4V-HERO; for questions about donating, email donate@guitarsforvets.org; or volunteering, email help@guitarsforvets.org.


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