Musical Mayhem - VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
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Musical Mayhem

VA Social Worker Maureen Burruel, facilitates the Rubber Band musical group for the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.

VA Social Worker Maureen Burruel, facilitates the Rubber Band musical group for the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.

By Michiko Riley
Thursday, August 15, 2019

‘Party like a rock star’ has new meaning for a group of older Veterans enrolled in the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center (SACC) Adult Day Health Care Program (ADHC). They are a part of The Rubber Band, a 20-member musical ensemble that pens music, sings songs, and plays instruments including keyboards, the xylophone, guitar and congas. Despite not having any Grammy Awards, music videos or sold out concerts, The Rubber Band is the hottest group amongst 70+ year old Veterans at the SACC Community Living Center. You can hear the band’s sound resonating in hallways, but, the music’s reach goes much further for these Vets.

“I’ve definitely benefitted in more ways than I can describe,” said Army Veteran Renoul Singleton. “We’re struggling through a period of our lives (at our age). There are no shaded trees and we want to be free. The music encourages us so that we can stand up to the fight.”

Singleton, who served in the Korean War, is a professional musician and has worked extensively in studio recordings. He joined The Rubber Band in June 2015 and plays the congas while teaching fellow band members about drum rhythm and singing technique. Singleton feels the band keeps him humble and helps him realize that other peoples’ lives are just as valuable as his own.

Army Veteran Renoul Singleton playing congas for the Rubber Band.
Army Veteran Renoul Singleton playing congas for the Rubber Band.

“Through participation in the group, we can monitor how the Veterans are functioning because we know their baseline,” said Maureen Burruel, Social Worker, SACC ADHC who facilitates the musical group. “We’re doing a little bit of everything but, most importantly, the Veterans are participating in a fun, effective cognitive activity, keeping them engaged.”

VA’s ADHC is a program Veterans can go to during the day for social activities, peer support, companionship, and recreation. The program is for Veterans who need skilled services, case management and help with activities of daily living.

According SACC Director of Psychology Practicum Program, Home Based Primary Care Psychologist Falguni Chauhan, PhD, the music program for ADHC Veterans has shown to be effective in many areas such as physical rehabilitation, facilitating movement, reducing anxiety or depression improving healing, increasing attention or motivation, and helping with social communication.

U.S. Navy Veteran Jerry Fessler, is one of The Rubber Band’s lead singers. To his right is Army Veteran Bill Jones.
U.S. Navy Veteran Jerry Fessler, is one of The Rubber Band’s lead singers. To his right is Army Veteran Bill Jones.

“The Veterans express and work through difficult emotions as guided by Maureen Burruel, using rhythm, movement, instruments and senses like sound, touch, visualization and more,” said Chauhan. “It has been very inspirational to watch the Veterans engage and perform in our ADHC program.”

Morris Rosen, WWII Veteran and survivor of the Battle of Thala, shared his experience with fellow ADHC Rubber Band Veterans on his travel from Oregon to California with no car, money or even a change of clothes after separating from the military. With pen in hand, Burruel began to write down his words into a storyboard format. The storyboard became a script which helped the Veterans focus on the lyrical content. Rosen’s adventure became the lyrics to The Rubber Band song ‘The 101.’

Stuck my thumb out on the 101
Looking for adventure, and some fun
Got a ride in a Model A, all the way to Monterey

Chorus
The blossom of the orange trees
Smells so good in the ocean breeze

Going to L.A. where I want to stay
To hit some bars and see some stars
Feeling out of place in this uniform
Never homesick, not one day

Chorus
The blossom of the orange trees
Smells so good in the ocean breeze

Need to find a place to stay
Find a job to pay my way
Santa Monica or Malibu
Sure, sounds good, what shall I do?

Burruel views music as a great equalizer and hopes to see more music incorporated into the ADHC program. There are 15 other VA ADHC program in the United States, the SACC ADHC is the only one in the Veteran Integrated System Network 22. She’s currently compiling a format on how to facilitate this type of musical group.

WWII Veteran Morris Rosen is one of 20 participants in The Rubber Band at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.
WWII Veteran Morris Rosen is one of 20 participants in The Rubber Band at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done at my career here at the VA. It helps our Veterans in so many ways. It gives them so much hope,” said Burruel.

“After seeing the results, people want to keep going.” explained Singleton. “We’re a team, everybody seems open and we stand on common ground. We’re all supporting one another too.”

When asked what musician the Veterans would like to meet, a few of the members named country music legend Willie Nelson.

“We’d love to have Willie Nelson come for a visit,” exclaimed Burruel. “Our Veterans would love to sing with him.”

So, if you’re reading this Mr. Nelson, have your people call our people, there’s a group of Veterans who would love to sing with you and do lunch! #willienelson #rubberband #letsdolunch

Members of The Rubber Band musical group practice singing songs at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.
Members of The Rubber Band musical group practice singing songs at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Adult Day Health Care Program.

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