I received an email from Skip Skipper, President of Freedom Sings USA, who proceeded to tell me about his company in Tennessee. He claimed that the treatment he offers for PTSD has prevented suicides and helped veterans move on with their lives. I’ve attended early RAP groups in the ’70s and participated in Group Therapy sessions with both the VA and private therapists and never heard of this program or anything similar. It’s an interesting concept that I want to share with you.

This post is divided into three sections: (1) The original email from Skip; (2) some questions I asked with his responses; and (3) an article in their local paper about the program. Let me know your thoughts at the end of the post.

Part I  

John, let me first say that I really enjoy the stories you publish about the Vietnam War. My friend Tom Sather forwards them to me. I met him in Basic Training, we went through Helicopter Flight School together and I even flew Cobra Gunship cover on him for a while in Vietnam flying out of Camp Holloway near Pleiku in 1968 -1969.

I am the President of the Board of a group called Freedom Sings USA based in Chattanooga, TN. We help Veterans heal or learn to better cope with the aftereffects of war. This is done by having the Veteran, male or female, who served in whatever war, from WWII through the latest war tell us their story to award-winning/nominated Songwriters and musicians, Don Goodman, and Steve Dean. We now have all-female classes with a female songwriter. The songs are then published on CDs. The vets then quite often become part of the group we call Alumni to give support to new Veterans coming to the program, which is entirely free to the vet.

This program has been proven to save the lives of some Veterans who had contemplated suicide before starting to attend the weekly songwriting class. They told us so. Many of the  Vets say they no longer wake up screaming. It has made marked changes in the lives of many of us who attend, including myself.

You can go to our website at https://Freedomsingsusa.org and listen to the songs for free. My song is called “What I was Saved For”. A friend added a video to it which appears under the heading of Music and Videos of the webpage. Click on Videos. You can click on Music to listen to the songs on the CDs. We have the song by a MOH nominated Cobra Pilot named Larry Taylor that will be out on our Vol. 5 CD. His song is “No Man Left Behind”. You can listen to it on our Webpage now.

There are so many groups that are helping veterans now that could have saved lives if they had been around when we got back.

Part II

What happens during the weekly sessions?
During the weekly sessions when we are meeting in person, we usually have anywhere from From 20 to 30 people attending. Most are alumni( people who have written a song with our songwriter. This number includes visitors learning about the class who might wish to tell their story, people that know of veterans who might benefit from the program, the songwriter and musician, and Board members. We feel that the comradery shared by the group helps new people feel as if they are part of our “family”. We feel that this approach is much more beneficial in the long run than the program that uses the one-song-and-done model. It is amazing how some of these veterans come out of themselves.

How do the meetings take place?
We sit around a long table in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and have extra chairs for overflow. Don Goodman, lead Songwriter and Musician Steve Dean write and put music to the song as the story is being told. It takes 2 or 3 meetings to tweak the songs and they are never finished until the Veteran is satisfied with it. Don co-wrote “Ole Red” for Blake Shelton and with Becky Hobbs wrote “Angels Among Us” for Alabama. Steve Dean Co-wrote “Watching You” by Rodney Adkins. These are top-notch songwriters and musicians. Currently, because of Covid, we are meeting via Zoom.

How do potential members join?
They just come to a meeting and get introduced to the group. We write songs for Veterans, Spouses of Veterans, Children and sometimes Parents of Veterans. There is never a charge to the Veteran. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit.

Part III

St. Mary Now Logo

Wed, 07/01/2020 – 9:24am 

By CASEY COLLIER

Local resident and veteran Gregory Mitchell was suffering last year from debilitating mental anguish. The former Redeye, Stinger, and Chaparral missile crewman had served on the Redeye Team, Combat Support Company, 3rd and 32nd Armored Division of the US Army from 1977-1980, and was in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder pertaining to his service. He attempted to end his own life and was brought to the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Miss. But he still felt the effects of his trauma after undergoing professional treatment there.

He said a friend of his told him about a program to help struggling veterans, called, Freedom Sings USA. So, he got in touch with the non-profit organization, and was accepted to their Little Rock, Ark. ongoing classes, for a two-day songwriting workshop where he was greeted by fellow veterans, and invited to work with professional songwriters to carefully craft a song about his personal military experiences, perform it in front of an audience, and have it professionally recorded and made available to the public.

“The first day,” Mitchell said, “took place on Friday when we had the ‘meet and greet’ at the McArthur Museum (of Military History), and that is the time that we paired-up the writers (veterans) with the singers/songwriters they wanted to work with.”

Mitchell went on to describe the next day at the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center as, “the writing sessions.” He said the writing process was not so arduous for him, as it may have been for others because he had been writing songs since 1976. His first song, “America, You’ve Come a Long Way,” Mitchell recalled, garnered him a letter of appreciation from then U.S. President Gerald Ford. His newest song, “It Shoulda Been Me,” written during that Saturday’s writing sessions in Little Rock, was performed at a private concert that night at the hospital, by none other than Mitchell himself, accompanied by a lone guitar.

“It was absolutely rewarding,” he said, “absolutely. It was so rewarding because I really didn’t know the difference it would make to me until I heard myself performing it for the first time, witnessed by others. It was awesome, truly awesome.”

“The beauty of it is,” he added, “once the song is written, they (the professional songwriters) go back to Memphis, to their studios, and re-record your song. Then, they burn it to CD and make it available across the nation. And once the song is written, it’s yours. You retain the rights to your song.”

President of the Board of Directors for Freedom Sings USA, Skip Skipper explained that the royalties from the recorded versions of the vets’ songs are divided up between the professional songwriters and the vets themselves, with the vets receiving half of the credit for the recording, and the songwriters receiving a quarter of the credit each, as there are usually two songwriters per recording. However, the rights to the song itself belong solely to the veteran, whose story it is.

Skipper was a Warrant Officer W–2, Cobra helicopter pilot with the 361st Aviation Company Escort, in Vietnam in 1968–1969. Recalling his experience coming to FSUSA, he said, “This is called the alternative therapy of music. It has changed my life and my personality. I have heard many testimonials where the veterans have said this program has changed their lives and even saved some of them.

“Many veterans have told us they have told things in class that they have never told anyone, including their families.” He added, “We’ll ask them (class participants), ‘How many of you were thinking about suicide before you started this class?’ And then, after a little while, one hand goes up, and then another… So, we know this saves lives. We know we’ve saved lives.

“We are brothers and sisters—we are like family in there.”

As for Mitchell, he said that if he was to reach out to a suffering veteran who was looking into FSUSA as a form of treatment, he would say, “Do not be afraid. Have an open mind. Be honest with yourself, and the writers, because it is going to be difficult. It is going to be painful. But it has a way of washing away some of the hurt, because all that is needed, most of the time, for you to feel better, or to get a better handle on what you are going through, is the act of sharing it, the act of expressing things you have had bottled up in you for so many years. “It is invaluable.”

He concluded by saying, “Louisiana’s veterans have been underserved for PTSD treatments.

“For one hour every week, they are seen by clinics and therapists, and that’s not enough. “When I went to Little Rock, it was a more intense therapy. We got into root causes, and what had been bottled up for so long.”

FSUSA states their mission as: helping veterans, active-duty military and their families throughout the country reach emotional balance by telling their stories through the creative process of songwriting.

Songwriting along with peer support helps provide veterans and their families the tools necessary to cope with trauma or readjust from military service.

Our mission is to also promote public support, education, and appreciation for the sacrifice the veterans and their families make serving our country through the hearing of their stories as told through song.

*****

Here is a sample video from the group. Trigger/Content warning: The following video contains actual war sounds & images that may be considered graphic by some. 

“The audio segment at the beginning of this video was recorded live, by combat photographer Lieutenant Bruce Wesson, at Long Binh, South Vietnam on January 31, 1968, the first day of the Tet Offensive.

You will hear small arms and automatic weapons,  incoming RPG rounds and other ordinance exploding. The squad leaders can be heard directing the concentration of fire. The radio transmissions in the background are communications between the platoon leader and the company commander engaged in the battle.”

https://player.vimeo.com/video/398905389

Click any of the links below to learn more about this organization and listen to songs they’ve recorded:

To purchase Mitchell’s song for $1, go to: https://www.freedomsingsarkansas.org/our-music(link is external), or you can buy the whole album.
To purchase Skipper’s song for $1, go to: https://www.freedomsingsusa.org/our-music(link is external), or you can but the whole album.
To donate to Freedom Sings USA, go to: https://www.freedomsingsusa.org/(link is external).

Thank you, brother, for connecting and letting us know about this worthy cause. I wish you well in your quest. Thank you, too, for your sacrifice.


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