TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Iraq War Veteran Angie Lupe is living proof that music can heal. The strum of guitar strings and lyrics that might hit close to home. Her newly released song, “Stand Up For Us,” is so much more than just a song; it’s a part of her mission.
The track starts with the words, “I think of me before the war. But that 24-year-old is just a shadow on the floor.”
Angie Lupe deployed to Iraq in 2003. She was a gunner in the early years of the war.
“We had open orders,” Lupe said. “We didn’t know where we were going until we were on the plane.”
A mortar went off around 10 feet from Angie, and she lost consciousness. In the days to follow, Angie had difficulty walking and hearing. At times she blacked out.
In 2005, Lupe was honorably discharged for several medical issues from her time overseas.
“Once I got home and realized I had a brain injury. I had chemical exposure, and I was slowly going paralyzed,” Lupe said.
Lupe was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a neuromuscular disorder that results in a slow degeneration of motor neurons—brain cells that control muscle movement.
“I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m still here,” Lupe said.
Accepting her new body and coping with trauma was a struggle. Music had always been her rock. Before the Iraq War, she was in several bands—playing guitar and piano while also writing music. After Iraq, Lupe said she didn’t have the strength to be a musician or strum a guitar. At one point, she became depressed and attempted suicide.
“I didn’t succeed, and it was a huge eye-opener because I have a son and a wife,” Lupe said. “So I turned that around and turned it into something positive.”
In 2017, Angie met Mark Ahola, a professor at Russel Sage College and a music therapist for Wildwood Programs—an organization that services those with disabilities. Ahola has worked with everyone from Veterans with PTSD to patients in hospice over his lengthy career.
“I think if you asked anyone if they liked music, most people would raise their hand,” Ahola said. “Music is a way to work through trauma. It lets you separate yourself from experience while keeping you in the present.”
Physically, Mark helped Lupe adapt how she played stringed instruments for her new body.
“I would use open tuning. So you could make a chord instead of having to put your fingers down for it,” Ahola said.
Lupe worked on a ukelele, then graduated to a miniature guitar. It was the first time she was making music in 15 years.
“It was like an epiphany, and I started playing again,” Lupe said. “Mark changed my life.”
Words poured out of Lupe. She wrote several songs about her experience and started performing them online and in person for live audiences at open mic events. She describes her music as a mixture of country, folk, and blues.
In March, Lupe connected to the organization CreatiVets. She was paired with a singer out of Nashville—Bella Hudson—and professional songwriters to record and release a song. “Stand Up For Us” is now available nationwide on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and YouTube.
Her song focuses on raising awareness about the barriers to entry those with disabilities face. Lupe’s mission is to reach businesses that refuse to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards. Heavy double doors and no ramps physically keep people like Angie out.
“I’m in a chair, and it’s like I don’t matter,” Lupe said. “It affects a lot of people, and I hear similar stories from comrades all over the country. Someone has to do something, and why not me.”