It’s no secret that music brings us pleasure and can improve our mood. Scientifically speaking, music has a profound effect on the limbic system, which helps control our drives, moods, and basic emotions. The therapeutic effects of music are so well known, in fact, that music has been used as a therapy tool for hundreds of years.
And for individuals who have experienced significant trauma in their lives, such as veterans, music can be the key to healing and overall wellness. Music also allows veterans to give back and support their communities — the hard rock veteran quintet Silence & Light is a notable example. Founded in 2017, Silence & Light brings a sense of fulfillment to each band member, and playing their songs together produces a therapeutic effect.
What’s more, Silence & Light provides a means of offering support to other veterans who may be struggling to adjust to civilian life. In October 2019, bandleader Brad Thomas, a former Army Ranger, told reporter Christopher Hart, “Not everything else we do in life gives us the same fulfillment as this. We want our fellow veterans to know we have all been there, that we have lived through the dark days.”
The good news is that veterans of all ages, no matter the branch or duration of service time, can find benefits in music. Exposure to music can happen via lessons, music therapy/counseling, or veteran-led bands that put on shows for their fellow servicemen and women. Veterans can even just sit back and enjoy the music of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, or Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, each of whom is a household name as well as a veteran.
Notable Musicians who Served in the Military
Some of America’s most iconic musicians proudly served their country before pursuing a career in music. These famous veteran entertainers span a number of genres, from country to metal to reggae. Despite the commercial success of many veteran musicians, however, their forays into music following military service weren’t always well-received.
Kris Kristofferson, for example, was disowned by his military family after he left the Army in 1965. But the singer/songwriter had already kicked off his music career while in the service, even forming a band while he was stationed in West Germany. Yet while his family was disappointed in his career choice, the five-time Grammy recipient was bestowed with the Veteran of the Year Award in 2003.
Fortunately, music isn’t as divisive in modern times; rather, it’s widely considered an art form that’s being increasingly used in rehabilitation and therapy settings. In fact, music therapy can help veterans process trauma more effectively, promoting healing. Music therapy is a tool that’s been in use among veteran populations for decades: As early as 1945, the U.S. War Department included music in a variety of therapeutic programs, such as occupational therapy and physical reconditioning.
Improving Veteran Healthcare and Wellbeing
Civilians can never truly understand what veterans went through during their time in service. Veterans may have engaged in active combat or worked as a translator in a war zone. They may have been exposed to toxic environments or situations that negatively impacted their physical health over the long term.
For example, before asbestos became heavily restricted in the 1970s, military members in all branches were exposed to what we now understand to be a toxic material. Our veterans may have come in direct contact with asbestos if they worked in vehicle production facilities or were involved in the demolition of old buildings. The repercussions of asbestos exposure are severe and can take years to manifest, often in the form of aggressive cancers such as mesothelioma.
Of course, many veterans don’t like to discuss their time of service, which can make it difficult to pinpoint effective mental health treatment options.
Understanding the Needs of Veterans
There are about 18.8 million veterans living in the U.S., which equals 7.6% of the total population. The number included veterans who served in World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts. Of those veterans, 7.74 million receive some type of VA disability compensation. PTSD is extremely common among the U.S. veteran population, and big data analytics may help us to better understand the efficacy of music in treating the condition, which is often debilitating.
It’s also important to note that, as their ages vary considerably, veterans with different backgrounds may also have personally distinct healthcare needs. Therein lies one of the strongest benefits of music therapy for veterans: Music is universally appealing. No matter if a veteran served in the Army in Korea or as a Marine in the Gulf War, music may provide the key to long-lasting healing, both physical and mental.
What’s more, music can even help bring military families together after a lengthy separation. Familial strength is integral to every veteran healthcare plan, and the whole family can benefit from creating music together, or even just listening to favorite songs.
Serving in the military is a notable endeavor that typically involves a heavy dose of personal sacrifice. Being away from one’s family in a stressful and dangerous setting can have a lasting impact even years after the fact. But music is a powerful mechanism for healing, strengthening bonds, and regaining confidence, and it may be the best tool in every veteran’s arsenal.