Healing Veterans Through the Arts

Written by Jason Moon //

Home. It was all I could think about in the war zone. I had put my life on hold to serve in Iraq and now after my deployment I could get back to living it. Almost immediately after returning, I started to have severe symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It started with severe and chronic insomnia. I would not sleep at all, or else I would lay in bed and start to fall asleep and then jerk awake and not feel safe. I would jump up, check the doors, and check for my weapon. I would tell myself, “You’re home and safe,” and try to go back to sleep. On those rare nights when I actually fell and stayed asleep, the nightmares would come. I struggled with anxiety in large crowds, always needing to be near the exits, always checking people down for weapons, etc. After four years of suffering with no end in sight, I decided I’d rather not live like this. In the spring of 2008, I attempted to end my own life by overdose.   

As I began my recovery from the suicide attempt in 2009, I was willing to try anything to get better. I hadn’t really want to die, the pain of everyday existence was just so crushing. I was desperate to get out of the darkness not just for me, but my family. I didn’t want my ten year old son to be without his father. I began to write songs about my experience. It felt good to externalize some of the trauma. I could take my horrible memories and I could write it into a song, and then that song would have a life of its own, containing a little bit of the nastiness that had been inside of me. The songs gave me a way to speak about what I had been unable to express.

I began to share the songs I had written and shortly after started to receive emails from other veterans and their loved ones. The first was from a mother whose son had been in Iraq the same time I was. He had been home four years like me and had attempted suicide three times. He claimed he “didn’t have a problem.” His mother played him my song “Trying to Find My Way Home”. After listening he broke down, cried, and told her what he had seen and done in Iraq. He checked himself into the Veteran’s Administration (VA) the next day. When I got the tenth correspondence communicating a similar response to the music, I decided I needed to do something. I founded the non-profit Warrior Songs and began to help other veterans turn their trauma into songs.

We start with gathering first-hand testimony from veterans. Their testimony is given to a songwriter who attempts to put their truth into a song. A first draft is shared with the veteran. If the veteran believes the song tells their truth, we take it into the studio to record and release it on one of our compilation CD’s. If it does not speak their truth, the song ends there. Usually a song just needs a little more work until the veteran says it speaks their truth.

Many veterans do not want to talk about their trauma. It’s not because they are being stubborn or difficult, but because PTSD is triggered by memories, so therapy means voluntarily triggering yourself on a semi-weekly basis. The memories bring pain and symptoms. The veterans we work with often say that they feel like a great burden has been lifted off them. They had something horrible that they carried in their heart for years. Now that horribleness now lives outside of them. They can point to it without having to point to themselves. Normal memories live in the past while traumatic memories live in the now. Hearing their trauma sung to them in a song helps them move it out of the immediate and sets it with in their narrative.

When we play these songs to veterans with similar trauma, something amazing happens. They connect to the content. There is a truth contained within, spoken in a language they understand. They are not alone. I once had a rather large Marine come up to me with tears in his eyes and punch me in the shoulder. He had been sitting with his civilian college buddies who see him as a big, strong Marine.  But when I sang a song about struggling after coming home from war, he couldn’t hold back the tears. “That has never happen before,” he said. He punched me again!

Sometimes the effects of healing through the arts are unintentional. Once, I was working with a young violin player and maker who had lost her brother to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in Iraq. She had turned to alcohol to get her through the difficult time. When I interviewed her, she was a full-blown alcoholic. We turned her story into a song. When we took it into the recording studio, it seemed only natural to invite her to play violin on it. She did not want to be intoxicated when she played on her brother’s memorial song so she went to AA and got sober. She has been sober for over a year now. All it took was a song.

To date, I have received correspondence from 32 veterans who have said that creating and listening to the music we have made at Warrior Songs has prevented their suicide because they felt heard. Story sharing is so powerful. Using the creative arts to externalize trauma has been very effective in helping veterans heal from the wounds of war. The full-circle nature of my experience is not lost on me; each day I am reminded of my 2nd chance. This work lifted me out of my own darkness and fills me with purpose. This is my life’s work.

Warrior Songs hosts creative arts healing retreats and releases a compilation CD of veterans’ stories turned into songs every other year.  “If You Have to Ask… Warrior Songs Vol. 1” released in 2016. “Women at War: Warrior Songs Vol. 2” is in production and will release this coming Veteran’s Day, November 10th, 2018.  Warrior Songs Vol. 3 is slated for a 2020 release and will explore Vietnam era veterans.


MH - Moon

Jason Moon is a combat veteran from the war in Iraq. He founded Warrior Songs in 2010. Jason has an MA in religious studies and is an award winning singer/songwriter. Jason lives in Chandler, Arizona.


One response to “Healing Veterans Through the Arts”

  1. Theme Overview: Mental Health – Healing in a Broken World – Streetside Conversations Avatar

    […]  Jason Moon shares his personal experience of how, in the places of deepest trauma, music and storytelling can be powerful tools for healing. […]


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