Veteran finds healing through music & service - VA Northern California Health Care System
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Veteran finds healing through music & service

Tommie Shorter showing guitars

Tommie Shorter showing his artwork

By Diana Penman is a writer and artist, currently working for the VA at McClellan
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Tommie Shorter fell in love with music when he was a boy. Some of his earliest memories are of his mother, who worked as nurse, singing Aretha Franklin songs around the house. From an early age, Shorter wanted to help people and found healing in music. He had no idea that one day he’d be helping America’s Veterans at the Sacramento VA Medical Center and building guitars in his free time.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, and from a military family, Shorter was used to moving often. When he was 15, he was asked to play saxophone with a local jazz band. However, his parents disapproved of the idea and moved the family to Panama. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1974, he joined the U.S. Navy and was later assigned to the U.S.S. Kamehameha.

In 2005, Shorter’s mother became ill, and he was committed to caring for her. Motivated by his mother’s dedicated service in the nursing field, he took a job at the Sacramento VA Medical Center in 2009 and became a Certified Nursing Assistant and received Certification as a Telemetry Technician. Shorter is currently working as a Program Support Assistant in the Cardiology Clinic.

It was during his eight years of service in nursing that Shorter began to truly appreciate the value of helping those who served.

“I always come in to work with a smile on my face,” Shorter said. “Here at VA, I know I can help my brothers and sisters who also served in the military.”

While he was enjoying a rewarding career, Shorter was also caring for his mother at home. To cope with the worry and stress of his mother’s illness, he learned to build custom guitars in his free time.

“I never thought I could do this,” he said. “There’s a sense of accomplishment. I wanted to build a guitar with a blues sound.”

He worked as an apprentice with master guitar makers Woody Boyd and Doug Kauer and would eventually begin building and selling his own.

Shorter has built 42 guitars to date. He performs at various guitar shows and has even donated his creations to charity.

“There’s a joy in adding some light in a time of darkness,” he said. “Being able to share music with others can be healing.”

Thank you for your service and for all you do for Veterans, Tommie Shorter.

This is just one example of the many dedicated employees who are working hard for America’s Veterans at the VA Northern California Health Care System. If you’re looking for a new career, consider joining the team at one of our many locations across Northern California. Benefits could include paid time off and sick leave, health insurance, and retirement options. To learn more about benefits offered to VA employees, visit To view a list of open positions at VA NorCal, click here.


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