Iraq War veteran and singer-songwriter Jason Moon never counted on his music helping fellow veterans with their post-traumatic stress disorder.
In fact, due to his own PTSD after serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, Moon found himself unable to write new music for nearly five years after returning home to Wisconsin. That was just the tip of the iceberg — his other symptoms included insomnia, depression and nightmares, and he began self-medicating. In 2008, he attempted suicide.
“I had PTSD when I got home, and I didn’t know it — I was misdiagnosed . . . so I was just kind of suffering,” Moon said recently from his home in Pewaukee, Wis., just outside Milwaukee.
“I was trying to get help from the VA, but they didn’t know. . . . I couldn’t write music — I write about what I know about, and what I knew about was all the crap I was going through, and it was painful every time I tried to touch it. It would just overwhelm me with all these emotions.”
Warrior Songs with Jason Moon
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Christ Community Reformed Church, 1010 Route 146, Clifton Park
How Much: Free
After the failed suicide attempt, he began seeking help more actively from the Department of Veterans Affairs and speaking with other veterans going through the same thing he was. He was able to find the right medications and began to improve, but he still wasn’t able to write music.
‘On the Bridge’ screening, with Jason Moon
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15
Where: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany
How Much: $6
More Info: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org
Then, in 2009 he was interviewed by filmmaker Olivier Morel for the PTSD documentary “On the Bridge,” and was asked to finish a song for the film that he had begun writing after coming home but was unable to complete, “Trying to Find My Way Home.” This initial spark opened the floodgates, and two weeks later Moon had a full album written, which he released in 2010 under the same name.
“That was kind of going to be the end of it — I hoped maybe my fans and friends and family would buy it,” he said. “I got an onslaught of email responses; the first from a veteran who said, ‘This spoke to me; I didn’t think anyone else understood.’ Then I got an email from a mother whose son was suffering with the symptoms for three years, but refused to get help from the VA — they sat down and listened to the song, and right after they went to the VA. OK, that’s two people in the world. But it just keeps happening.”
The response led him to found Warrior Songs, a nonprofit aiming to help veterans with PTSD and those working with veterans through song, in 2011. He’s spent the past year touring the U.S., performing his songs and sharing his and others’ stories. He’ll be in the Capital Region for two presentations — the first at Christ Community Reformed Church in Clifton Park on Sunday; the second at The Linda in Albany on Thursday, Nov. 15, accompanying a screening of “On the Bridge.”
Surprised at responses
“It works. I don’t know why it works; I didn’t intend for it to work,” Moon said. “Every day sometimes, I’m surprised. [I’ve heard from] a gentleman, a Vietnam-era vet. Call after call I get from vets who request songs from the CD. It’s broken through all these barriers, different wars, different age groups. I’m still in shock — ‘I did that? Are you sure we’re talking about the same guy? I just wrote what I felt.’ ”
Moon will draw from the 14-song “Trying to Find My Way Home” album at these performances, which combines a mix of roots rock, country and folk with his earnest lyrics about his struggles readjusting to civilian life. But he insisted that the presentation is not a concert, per se.
“It is hard to explain it to people — ‘Is it a concert?’ It’s not a concert. ‘Is it a lecture?’ It’s not a lecture,” Moon said. “It’s an educational presentation using music, story, humor and facts.”
The presentation varies depending on the audience, but generally discusses what PTSD is and how family members and friends of servicemen suffering from it can “make life better for them.” A big portion of it deals with how to talk to PTSD sufferers.
“The most important thing, I guess, is to listen, and I know it sounds simple but it’s not,” Moon said. “People have a tendency to ask, ‘What was it like [in Iraq]?’ and that’s not listening. People have a tendency to tell a veteran, ‘Oh, my uncle served in World War II’ — that doesn’t mean you know what it’s like. Basically, it’s accepting your ignorance, being open and allowing the vets to tell their stories. When veterans can’t feel like they can express their stories, they have to carry the burden all by themselves.”
Moon was in his second enlistment with the Wisconsin National Guard when he was sent to Iraq — he was previously enlisted from 1993 through 2001. He re-enlisted in 2002, and in June 2003 his battalion was sent to Iraq. He returned home in April of 2004 and was honorably discharged again in August of that year.
Many other PTSD sufferers have not been as lucky as Moon. According to him and the VA website, roughly 22 veterans with PTSD commit suicide per year — the VA website lists 23.19 suicides out of 100,000 males, and 5.65 out of the same number of females, for 2005. In educating the public on how to help, Moon hopes to reduce and eventually eliminate these suicides.
“When veterans can communicate their pain openly and freely, and they know when their civilian counterparts understand, they can stop isolating themselves,” he said.
“I want to stop veteran suicide through my music — that’s not exactly the stated goal, but that’s the ultimate purpose. I do it because they are isolated, nobody understands them, and sometimes they don’t even realize that there are other veterans who would understand them. And that just plain pisses me off.”
Story to Song program
In addition to his own songs, Moon has been working through Warrior Songs to help other veterans tell their stories through art and music. Through the Story to Song program, he was able to help a Navy veteran, who goes by D. to protect her identity, who was raped onboard her ship. The song that came out of the collaboration, “Leslie,” is about D.’s friend who was also raped while serving in Iraq.
“Unfortunately she was in a position where Leslie was suicidal, and [D.] had to call 911, and their friendship was severed,” Moon said.
“I realized how powerful this CD was for PTSD vets — people come up just amazed that someone understood how they were feeling, without meeting them, because we share a common wound,” he said.
“I began talking to vets who suffered traumas that I did not, and I wanted to help them articulate their pain and suffering.”