Canadian organization helping PTSD victims one chord at a time

July 6, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

“My guitar saved my life because the more I played the more all the noise in my head went away.”

Those are the inspirational words of Jim Lowther, President and CEO of Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS) Canada and founding father of the organization’s innovative Guitars for Vets program.

A 15-year veteran of the Canadian military now living in Dartmouth, N.S., Mr. Lowther launched VETS Canada in 2010 when he realized that there were hundreds of veterans slipping through the cracks, failing to make a successful transition from their military careers to a healthy, productive civilian life.

Spending time as both a peacekeeper in Bosnia and a sniper in missions following 9/11 during his time in the army, Mr. Lowther never truly returned home when he was medically released in 2005. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2002, struggling with the affliction for several years prior to starting VETS Canada. Today, Mr. Lowther is open about his battle with PTSD and serves as a beacon for those looking to come back from its terrifying grip.

But he didn’t simply do it alone. In his time of need, Mr. Lowther turned to music. Even to this day, he credits his guitar with helping him deal with the struggles of PTSD. Drawing inspiration from that belief and having watched a similar program succeed south of the border, Mr. Lowther launched Guitars for Vets in early 2015. Since that time, the organization has helped guide hundreds of veterans in their battle with PTSD.

Entirely dependent on volunteers, Guitars for Vets is a simple concept. It connects members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP, both past and present, with an instructor who will provide guitar lessons free of charge. Following 10 weeks of free lessons, students will be presented with their very own guitar free of charge. The catch? you ask. According to DufferinCounty-based instructor Jeff Rogers-Wardle there isn’t one.

“All these people have to be willing to do is put themselves out there, which is no mean feat for someone struggling with PTSD,” Mr. Rogers-Wardle said. “PTSD is an odd thing. A lot of people just want to shut down when they’re suffering, but Guitars for Vets really is an incredibly unique way for them to overcome their fears and get out there one little step as a time.”

A certified music teacher with the Toronto District School Board, Mr. Rogers-Wardle has been volunteering with Guitars for Vets for just over a year now. In that time, he has taught one local student and is in the process of teaching a second, but hopes to see many more once word of the program spreads throughout the community.

“Guitars for Vets is a great organization. It’s fairly new to me, but I certainly see it as being very worthwhile. For me, this is about helping veterans who I feel put their life on the line for us. I want to help as many of these people who are struggling as possible,” Mr. Rogers-Wardle said. “We have tens of thousands of veterans (struggling with PTSD) and I believe we probably have quite a few right here in Dufferin County. Age doesn’t matter, time served doesn’t matter, just a willingness to try and a willingness to learn.”

Under the scope of the program, Mr. Rogers-Wardle said he would see potential students once a week at his home office and that he was willing to teach any level of player.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, if you have a basic knowledge of playing or if you have some experience. My job is to help. Music is a great way for these people to try and heal and recover pieces of themselves… I love what I do and I’d really like to be able to help out more veterans in our region,” Mr. Rogers-Wardle said.

For more information on Guitars for Vets, visit If you are a local veteran currently suffering with PTSD or any other service-related injuries or disabilities and are interested in enrolling in Guitars for Vets, contact Jeff Rogers-Wardle at

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