Veterans hit the links to overcome PTSD
Army Reserve Master Sgt. Gregory Mathis, noncommissioned officer in charge of information technology, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 335th Signal Command (Theater), golfs at a fundraising tournament in 2016 at the Tournament Players Club Sugarloaf, in Duluth, Georgia. The event, called “Birdies for the Brave,” is part of a national military outreach initiative that helps service members, veterans and their families deal with PTSD. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell)
By Tracy Fuga
Far too many veterans suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts nearly 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan, nearly 14 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and an astounding 31 percent of Vietnam veterans. To bring more awareness to the issue of PTSD, the U.S. Senate designated June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day. In 2014, the Senate designated the full month of June for National PTSD Awareness.
The VA states that cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective type of counseling for PTSD. Currently, the VA offers two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy for veterans with PTSD: cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy. CPT teaches veterans how to evaluate and change the upsetting thoughts that have occurred since the trauma. Prolonged exposure teaches sufferers to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations that they have been avoiding since the trauma. By confronting these challenges, PTSD symptoms can actually decrease. There are additional treatment options through the VA, including medications and other talk therapies like eye movement desensitization.
Outside of the VA, there are programs that use golf to help veterans heal. One such program is PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), a year-round golf program for all military veterans, designed to enhance their rehabilitation and assimilation back into society. The PGA HOPE program provides veterans with free golf instruction taught by PGA professionals. The program includes a working partnership with physical therapists, golf instruction, playing opportunities and social events — all using the sport as an activity to assist veterans with their progress in rehab.
PGA HOPE is a two-part program. The first part is the Down Range Clinic, a free introductory golf experience open to all veterans. Local PGA professionals teach veterans the proper way to play the game, using adaptive equipment when necessary. After that, the veterans are invited to participate in the weekly HOPE sessions conducted over the next five to eight weeks. Upon completion of the program, the veterans are given a new set of golf clubs and a hobby that will hopefully carry them through the hard times. Currently, there are 68 programs in 38 states with over 3,500 veterans assisted.
Duane Poser, retired U.S. Army battery clerk, takes a swing at a golf ball at the driving range on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in 2015. With the assistance of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America HOPE program, this was the first time Poser had played golf in about three years. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Kline)
Another golf-centered program is Birdies for the Brave, created in 2006 by one of the game’s greatest players, Phil Mickelson, and his wife, Amy, to support combat-wounded veterans. The program has since been adopted by the PGA Tour and branched out to include a variety of military outreach and appreciation activities during PGA events. The program also is involved with a series of fundraising events at the PGA Tour’s Tournament Players Clubs and its partner courses across the country, raising over $17 million for nonprofit military groups that support service members, veterans and their families, ranging from rehabilitation services and counseling to housing and career development.
The Salute Military Golf Association provides rehabilitative golf programs, experiences and golf opportunities for post-9/11 wounded war veterans across the country. The programs are designed to help improve the quality of life for these heroes. SMGA is open to eligible veterans and service members, including those wounded or injured in post-9/11 military operations, suffering from PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury. The programs include Warrior Golf Clinics, consisting of eight weeks of instruction by PGA professionals, and the American Golfer Program, which helps wounded warriors play adaptive golf with the help of PGA professionals. SMGA provides a custom-fitted set of clubs to any warrior who completes the program.
Golf is known to have many health benefits (a Swedish study found that it increases life expectancy by five years) and is a game that can be played by all ages, whether alone or in a group. The fresh air and socializing that comes with a round of golf can be beneficial for PTSD sufferers and might even result in better sleep, reduced stress and weight loss as golfers easily walk more than the 10,000 daily recommended steps in an average 18-hole round of golf.
All VA medical centers provide PTSD care, and many clinics do as well. To find local mental health services and information on trauma and PTSD, visit the VA’s National Center for PTSD page.