“I personally credit the game of golf with saving my life,” says Navy Veteran Aaron Ojard.
In 2009, Ojard deployed to Afghanistan where he worked as a trauma nurse. He suffered a neck injury from a rocket attack, but most of his PTSD symptoms are triggered from the stress of working with trauma patients on a daily basis during his deployment. After leaving the Navy, Ojard was looking for a way to deal with his symptoms.
“The game of golf got me out of the house, got me working through the PTSD so I could be out there with brothers and sisters that I’ve served with, playing the game of golf. Getting out there and golfing gave me 3 ½ hours to 4 hours of therapy,” he said.
It’s because of Veterans like Ojard that VA is partnering with PGA Reach to bring additional golf programming to Veterans nationwide. PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), the PGA’s flagship military program, has helped thousands of Veterans assimilate back into their community through the social interaction that the game of golf provides.
The eight-week program, which is fully funded by PGA Reach and is offered at no cost to Veterans, is taught by PGA professionals who are experts in teaching golf and are certified to work with Veterans, especially those with posttraumatic stress. Working with VA allows the PGA to set up locations throughout the country where there is a strong golf community and PGA presence. Once a location is established, VA will assist with identifying Veterans who can use golf as therapy.
“This is an extraordinary program,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, VA’s Under Secretary of Health. “The ability to use adaptive sports to help heal Veterans and to create synergies between health and well being is really terrific.”
Once Veterans complete the eight-week program, they can work on their skills closer to home, with discounts on green fees and range balls at courses in their communities. They can also continue to get mentoring from the golf pros who taught them to play in the PGA HOPE program.
“Seeing this push by the PGA HOPE and the VA to say ‘Let’s use a game that can get Veterans together, having fun, being competitive again,’ it’s going to save lives,” said Ojard. “People talk about post traumatic stress and how debilitating it can be. Yes, I know how debilitating it can be. It ended my career in the military. It almost ended my life. But I look at golf, as I’m not dealing with posttraumatic stress anymore. Through the game of golf I’m having posttraumatic growth,” he added.