When soldiers return from war they often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For some, it is temporary and they make a full recovery. For others, it may haunt them the rest of their lives – causing isolation and pain - sometimes to the point that they end their life. Intervening into this process can be difficult, as there may be no obvious signs of trauma, and many sufferers hesitate to seek treatment.
Group therapy, medication and hospitalization are some of the current treatments available, but the Veterans’ Golf Program at the Sacramento County Mather Golf Course
is trying a different tactic: group golf. Former college track coach, 23-year Marine Corps and Vietnam combat tour vet Joe Neff has been working with active duty wounded warriors and volunteers at the VA Medical Center at Mather
for several years. While working with hospital staff, they brainstormed out-of-the-box methods to specifically help veterans suffering from PTSD. Joe, a long-time golfer and Troy Keath, a combat army vet and VA hospital employee, also a golfer, decided to give golf a shot.
In August 2013, in anticipation of beginning the program with no equipment and no idea what they were getting into, Joe turned to the General Manager at Mather Golf Course, Asa Jennings, and to Sacramento County’s Golf Division for help. The program had no money, but knew their mission was important. Mather Course Golf, located near the VA Hospital, generously offered to provide free range balls, range space and, in time, free rounds of golf and carts for participants.
The program has grown steadily over the past three years. With more than 30 regular participants weekly, these veterans, both men and women, have embraced this new method of therapy – and picked up like-minded friends in the process. PTSD can be very isolating, but golf gives them a reason to make friends again – to talk again, to feel again. Generous donations have poured in from private donors and companies so each participant has everything they need.
The program also hosts an annual 9-hole golf tournament to raise money and has received overwhelming support from the Sacramento County Golf Division, Mather Golf Course and private donors.
“We are so proud of the impact this program is making on our local veterans,” Said Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chair Roberta MacGlashan. “These men and women have sacrificed so much for us, now we can help them – and hopefully change their lives.”
If there is any question that this program is changing lives, you only need to hear the story of one of the original vet's that showed up to the very first meet-up - intending to commit suicide in the near future. After spending time with others suffering from the same affliction and seeing that there were people who cared enough to donate time, compassion and a listening ear, he decided he wanted to live. He now comes every week.
What is up next for the Veterans Golf Program? They are working on a program for amputees, getting the word out to more veterans and continuing to expand services and group therapy options beyond golf. The ultimate goal? "Get them out of the darkness and bring them into the light."
For more information on the program, how to participate or to donate contact Joe Neff