The VA in La Jolla has been looking to a not-so-traditional form of medicine to treat PTSD and other conditions.
Navy veteran Sara VanEpps said it made all the difference for her.
"I wanted to think of a way to commit suicide," VanEpps said.
VanEpps hurt her back at boot camp in San Diego.
"They would give me pain pills," VanEpps said. "I got into taking more than I should."
Blinding pain was overshadowed by emotional agony.
"I'd pick them up … it's like okay I can mix these up," she explained.
Then, she would shake her head and put them down.
"There's still that little flicker of light," she added.
The dark days kept creeping up on her and she would pick up the pills again. Then, she was recommended to recreational therapy at the VA in La Jolla where she met Ellen Berman.
"Music is powerful," Berman said.
Guitars 4 Vets is a 12 week program in which veterans learn to play the guitar. At the end, they receive a guitar at no cost thanks to fundraising efforts and generous guitar shops.
"It is a tremendous tool for anxiety," Berman said. "Someone with PTSD when they have flashbacks, they're able to pick up the guitar, and they're able to come back."
Berman said it is instrumental in helping with everything from Traumatic Brain Injuries to self esteem.
"I get so excited it's like... phew!" VanEpps said as she fanned the tears from her eyes.
"I start feeling… I guess… lifted," she added. "I can breathe."
Now, she grabs her guitar instead of the pills. The therapy made such a difference, she is now a volunteer helping other vets.