June is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Month and Monday, June 27, is recognized as PTSD Awareness Day. Post-Traumatic Stress is an invisible wound that affects 12 million adults in a given year. This does not even include the children and adolescents that also suffer from this condition. Perhaps most notable and recognized is PTSD among military veterans and first responders. Three local non-profit organizations are working with this group of heroes to help them and their families deal with PTSD.
Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends (GLVF) started more than seven years ago as just a small group of residents from that community helping veterans’ organizations. Each year their annual golf tournament raises tens of thousands of dollars which they donate to the VFW, American Legion and other groups. Now, one of their programs focuses on helping veterans deal with PTSD.
Starting in May of this year, the SAVES program is a 6-week golf academy that gives these veterans an opportunity to learn how to play golf or improve their game if they are already golfers. Currently operating at Sweet Swing Golfing Range in Homosassa, FL, the program offers a high-level of instruction from PGA instructor Joe Cioe. Each participant attends the academy two days a week and receives complimentary golf apparel and related sports supplies. GLVF plans to hold four of these academies per year.
Ron Ford, a golfing enthusiast himself, started SAVES and is now co-coordinator along with Richard “Dicky” Keane. “The purpose of the program is to get PTSD veterans out of their houses and bond with each other to feel safe about talking about their military experience instead of holding it in. We hope the program SAVES lives and reduces the suicide rate among veterans, especially those with PTSD,” Keane stated.
John Coleman golfed a little before joining the SAVES program, but “nothing to write home about,” he quiped. The golf pro helped him with his swing, but most importantly, “he helped me work on ways to relax my mind and enjoy the game.” Coleman adds, “The greatest part about the program isn’t the golf it’s the chance to interact with other people who understand what you are going through and you have a reason to get out.”
Another important project that Glen Lakes Veterans and Friends has going on right now is raising funds for a memorial wall, which will be erected in the community. They want to erect the wall for three reasons−to provide a permanent monument as a place of reflection, to honor those who believed in a cause bigger than themselves and to establish a lasting testimonial to teach future generations. To learn more about GLVF and their various projects, to donate to their cause or to sign up for the golf academy go to www.glenlakesvets.org You can also call Richard Keane at 352-345-5337 or Ron Ford at 906-291-0587.
Another organization that helps veterans with PTSD is K9 Partners for Patriots (K9P4P). It was founded in 2014 by Mary Peter who is a professional dog trainer. The mission of K9P4P is to match service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD, train the dog and the veteran together and then follow up with on-going support. All of this is at no cost to the veteran. The majority of the dogs are rescue animals.
According to K9P4P Communications Director Gregg Laskoski, a year ago there were 482 Veterans and active military in the program. Currently, that number is 635. And K9 Partners for Patriots has rescued 204 dogs from kill shelters. “While we believe that growth reflects our effectiveness, it’s also a sad reminder of the relentless need for help, especially among veterans with PTSD,” Laskoski remarked.
A sign of K9P4P’s success is the fact that the organization has outgrown its current facility. With a state grant, they were able to purchase an 11-acre property and a campaign to raise money to build the facility will begin shortly. K9P4P is a partner in the Florida Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members and Veterans, as well as the Families Five Star Suicide Prevention Program−proof of the credibility and respect the program has garnered. If you are a veteran or active duty member of the armed forces and have been diagnosed with PTSD or a loved one or friend, call 352-397-5306 or go to www.k9partnersforpatriots.com for more information. K9P4P is in need of funds for its building project and programs. They also welcome volunteers. You can also call to arrange a tour of the facility.
Veterans HEAT Factory was founded in 2017 by Gus Guadagnino, a local businessman. Initially, he funded the program entirely and he has donated the use of a large warehouse he owns to house the facility. The acronym HEAT stands for “Honoring, Empowering, Assisting, and Training.” The program primarily works with veterans, but also helps first responders.
“Its mission is to help these men and women unlock their full potential, inspire personal growth, encourage community integration and support their ability to re-enter civilian life and achieve lifelong success,” stated Guadagnino.
The program is run entirely by volunteers, relies on donations and community grants to operate and offers its services free of charge. Programs include exercise and yoga−it boasts a gym with an array of exercise equipment−professional mental health counseling, job and education guidance, and an opportunity for these men and women to socialize.
A professor in the Master of Social Work program at Saint Leo University, Dr. Diane Scotland-Coogan, created a model of counseling and has added evidence-based practices based on the veteran’s needs. Psychotherapy with individuals, couples, groups, and families has proven to support mental health healing.
Among the skills and program Veterans HEAT Factory offers are Phases of Trauma Recovery; Therapeutic Writing; Managing Anxiety, Anger, Depression, Shame, Guilt, and Self-Esteem; Substance Abuse Information; and Managing Relationships. It even helps the program participants with finances and budgeting. Covid-19 has hurt the organization tremendously. For almost two years they were not able to meet in person for activities and all counseling was done via Zoom. Gus, himself, spent many hours just talking to participants and providing a means for them to express their feelings. Because of the economy, the fact that Veterans HEAT Factory is a fairly new organization and has not yet obtained any large grants, they have had to curtail some of their programs. As Guadagnino remarks, “We continue to pray for an ‘Angel.’ ” They hope to have at least one major fundraiser this year as they did last year when they held a comedy and magic show and a concert/dance featuring a local “oldies” band. For more information on Veterans HEAT Factory, to donate or to volunteer go to www.veteransHEATfactory.com or call 352-251-7015.