Music Therapy Program Helps War Veterans Transition

In this Oct. 10, 2012, photo, musician Julio Fernandez holds a guitar during a class session at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. Students are participating in a music class for service men and women that helps them cope with their life after the military through a program called Voices of Valor. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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UNION CITY, NJ - For Jose Mercedes an eclectic iPod mix that helped him cope with losing an arm during a tour of duty in Iraq.

Mercedes is one of the participants of a pilot program called Voices of Valor.

"It's a therapy session without the 'sit down, lay down, and write notes,'" Mercedes of Union City, New Jersey. The 26-year-old said the music program is "different _ it's an alternative that's way better."

Voices of Valor is a program that uses music to try to help veterans ease their reintegration into civilian life. Veterans work as a group to synthesize their experiences into musical lyrics. Guided by musicians and a psychology mentor, they write and record a song, and then hold a CD release party.

The program is currently under way at Montclair State University, where students participate through the school's veteran affairs program.
Developed by husband and wife team Rena Fruchter and Brian Dallow, it is open to veterans of any age and background. No musical experience is required.

Dallow said "we don't sit them down and say talk about your feelings. we go through it as a process and it comes out and it's really remarkable."

During the 8-week program, music facilitators lead a small group of young veterans in brainstorming about their experiences.

Julio Fernandez, a music facilitator, said "in the beginning their wall is up. And by the end of the 8 weeks, they're kidding around and having a great time and feeling very proud of what they're doing. Music is a very powerful thing."

Weeks later, the group gathered at a sound studio in Union City, where they donned headphones and clearly relished the opportunity to record their collectively written tune, "Freedom," in a professional studio.

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