Suicide among veterans and members of the Armed Forces continues to be a concern. As the numbers rise and persist, those across the military community are trying to find solutions that can help those at risk find help. Sometimes that may come through a creative outlet, as Operation Song has showed to be possible.
An organization that has teamed with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Operation Song connections veterans with musicians and songwriters. The aim? To translate pain, anxiety, experiences and suffering into song, and through that process achieve some form of therapeutic relief.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S., and it's important to recognize the efforts of Operation Song as it continues to try to help those dealing with dark times.
What is Operation Song?
A nonprofit based in Nashville, Operation Song started in 2012 and has helped write some 700 songs, working with everyone from World War II veterans to those currently serving. Created by Bob Reagan, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, Operation Song has a diverse board of directors, including veterans, professional musicians and other military stakeholders. That makeup reflects the organization's mission to empower those struggling with PTSD, suicidal thoughts or injuries sustained from service by immersing them in the songwriting process. Not only does writing a song help them process emotions or work through thoughts, but the final product can be a cathartic release, as well as a lasting memory.
Reagan started with a single weekly session at a VA center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that gathered eight veterans and a musical therapist. The program has since expanded to several regular sessions held throughout Middle Tennessee, as well as retreats where a veteran can be paired one on one with a songwriter. There is zero requirement for veterans to have a previous background in music, all they need is impetus to tell a personal story or honor those they served with.
VA seeks increased collaboration
The success that Operation Song has found with veterans and active duty members has led the VA to expand a partnership with the nonprofit, according to Military.com. Operation Song held a pilot retreat in 2018, and another in the summer of 2019. The results were positive enough to lead the VA to join as co-host of a national workshop and retreat to be held in November 2019.
"VA is always striving to find unique ways to help Veterans build on their military experiences, and music therapy is just one component of VA's robust Recreation Therapy programs, which serve Veterans around the country," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement. "Music can provide an outlet for expression of feelings, as well as be an avenue of communication for those who find it difficult to express themselves."
One of the most notable songs that has been produced through Operation Song is "Last Monday in May," whose subject is Memorial Day through the years. The song was a collective effort written by six Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans, as has been performed at the Grande Ole Opry in Nashville, as well as at the National Mall for the past five Memorial Days.
While those who want to work with Operation Song must be referred through a VA provider, those who do cannot say enough for what the program did for them.
" … I was in a rough spot before. I had contemplated suicide," Van Booth, a retired infantryman. told the Montrose Press of Colorado. "When I say Operation Song saved my life, that's what I mean."