Serving and Healing Veterans - Through Music
“I’m reinvesting in music. I never thought that something beautiful would happen to me here, but this drumming is creating something beautiful, and I’ve been so lonely.” – Veteran at San Francisco VA Medical Center, following a group drumming session
At her new post at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, MusicianCorps Fellow Jen Hastings is hearing a lot of surprised reactions from her patients. “The other day I did a gait training with a Parkinson’s patient, having him walk to the beat of the metronome,” Hastings says. "Then I had him continue while I sang ‘Valderi Valdera’ to the beat, and he sang along with me, laughing and smiling as he walked. Afterward he said, ‘Singing takes away all the effort. It’s effortless.’”
Currently in her fourteenth year of professional practice, Hastings, a Board Certified Music Therapist (BC-MT), is working with geriatric Veterans on an ongoing basis for the first time. Based in the VA’s residential Community Living Center, most of Hastings' patients are older men who struggle with a variety of health challenges. “I love working with this population much more than I could have expected,” she says. “These are men who have had fascinating lives, and despite much trauma, most are extremely kind. With some caution in the beginning, the majority of my patients have engaged with music in daring and creative ways.”
Hastings provides daily group and individual sessions that promote physical, mental, and emotional recovery for Veterans. Her interventions are helping stroke and traumatic brain injury patients regain speech and motor skills, and helping others fight the memory loss and senility that comes with dementia.
“Older Veterans are the ‘forgotten population’ in some ways. Most require more support than they have been given. Many have been homeless at some point in their lives and they tend to live fast and hard,” Hastings says. “[Through music therapy] Veterans can find ways to become less isolated and depressed.”
With MusicianCorps, Hastings has also been able to integrate the outside community into the VA. Recently, MusicianCorps volunteer Rashida Clendening aka ‘Audio Angel’ paid a visit to 91 year old WWII Veteran and pianist Ernesto Cinco. The two rehearsed and performed songs for the other Veterans during lunch.
Hastings also collaborated with MusicianCorps colleague Hernando Buitrago to bring his sixth grade students from Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 to the VA to perform for and interact with the Veterans. Following the performance, a Veteran exclaimed, “That was fantastic. Thank you for sharing your music with us. Please come back!”
“We’re hearing and witnessing the great stories [from Hastings and the Veterans], which is the best case we can make for sustaining the program,” says Michael Harper, Director of Geriatrics & Extended Care Service Line at the VA.
Hastings' MusicianCorps mission reaches beyond her service in San Francisco. “There are no standardized evaluation tools right now for music therapy interventions applied to Veteran populations,” she says. “So part of my role with MusicianCorps is to develop and test evaluation practices that will, hopefully, contribute to the field of music therapy nationally.”
Learning from Hastings' creative leadership and the SF VA pilot program, MusicianCorps envisions bringing high-quality music therapy and community engagement to more Veterans throughout the country.