VA Hudson Valley Health Care System
VA, PGA combine to help Vets
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- When Jared Troise started battling alcoholism and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, he never expected one of the weapons he’d have to swing at them would be a 5 iron.
Troise, a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran, found that golf club in his arsenal after starting an in-patient treatment program with the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System and being introduced to a program called PGA HOPE.
He and about two dozen other Veterans from VA Hudson Valley graduated from the PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), a partnership between the VA and the Metropolitan Section of the Professional Golfers Association July 2. Conducted at the West Point Golf Course at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the six-week program introduced Veterans to the fundamentals of golf through clinics and one-on-one instruction from volunteer PGA professionals in the area. The program is one of many going on during the VA’s Summer of Service.
Long before being introduced to the links in June, however, the 31-year-old Troise’s fight with alcohol and PTSD drove him to seek in-patient treatment at VA Hudson Valley’s Montrose campus in March.
"I realized in myself that I needed to make a change. I wasn’t going anywhere in my life. So, I reached out to a friend of mine that was in the VA. He said I should come down (to Montrose) and talk to them,” Troise said. “Once I went down there, I was completely sold on the experience and that I wanted to join a program.”
As a Coast Guardsman who served from 2006 to 2010, Troise’s billet pushed him toward chasing drug runners and plunged him into search-and-rescue missions, both he described as “high speed and very intense. I learned a lot about myself and working with a unit.”
While rebuilding in the Montrose program, Troise said there were outlets for residents like fishing and hiking, but nothing so structured as PGA HOPE. Then along came Amy Hahn, a recreational therapist at Montrose who schedules activities for in-patient Veterans, with the PGA HOPE opportunity.
Hahn said this program is a great step forward, bolstering social interaction, skill development and self-esteem.
“It’s a normal activity for people who are trying to change their lives. A lot of these guys are substance abusers and don’t think they should be allowed to do the things that normal people do,” said Hahn, who has worked for the VA for more than two decades.
Troise played a number of sports growing up in Hicksville, N.Y., on Long Island, including baseball, lacrosse, soccer and others. When he started with started golf with PGA HOPE, however, the game flummoxed him.
“Golf was completely different from anything I’ve ever done before,” Troise said. “I was dumbfounded; all over the place. I felt a little awkward.”
Eventually, the PGA pros helped Troise key in on their instruction. Heath Wassem, the 17-year club pro at Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., was one of about a half dozen pros who volunteered his time to teach the Veterans. Wassem, a self-described military brat whose father served in the U.S. Air Force, learned how to play golf at the Twin Base Golf Course at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
He said with more than 2 million Veterans in the New York Metropolitan region and another 150,000 in the Hudson Valley area, this time he volunteered meant a lot to him.
“I think getting them outdoors together … the camaraderie of being on the golf course is just such a great outlet,” said Wassem, who hails from Mount Kisco, N.Y. “The game is in our blood. To take it to this level, and to see the enthusiasm and joy in these guys eyes when they hit that one good shot makes it all worth it.”
In the six-week adventure, Wassem said he saw the “Ah Ha!” moment a few times. “Explaining those concepts has been a really eye-opening thing.”
Troise agreed. “The PGA guys are amazing and got my confidence up. Then I was able to learn mechanics of how to play golf.”
Hahn said she saw the difference in Troise and the other Veterans just a few weeks in.
“Jared can see that he can do this without having to use substances and still have a good time,” Hahn said. “That’s what I really try to teach them: you can do anything without using substances and still enjoy it.”
U.S. Navy Veteran Susan Meyer, a Veteran being seen on an out-patient basis for physical issues at VA Hudson Valley, also participated in the program. “(PGA HOPE) brought my stress level down and got me outside, learning a sport that I’ve never done. I used to be able to play tennis and softball but I’m no longer physically able. The chance to have actual golf professionals instruct me as well as help me learn to play, adjusted to my functional level, has been the greatest reward,” Meyer, from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., said.
Julia Anderson, chief of the recreational therapy program for VA Hudson Valley, said the partnership was a success and looks forward to its next iteration in September.
“The level of satisfaction gained from participation in leisure activities is directly related to a positive attitude, feelings of well-being, provides healthy coping mechanisms. This is extremely important for our veterans and we are tremendously grateful for the Metropolitan PGA Hope and PGA Reach,” Anderson said.
Troise summed up his experience by pointing out how he’s been able to stay away from alcohol, adjust better to tough life experiences and put that 5 iron to good use.
“The program helped me be confident in myself and understand I don’t have to use substances when I come to tough roads in my life; that I have other outlets and I have different people I can go to and different avenues I can use rather than revert back to substance abuse,” Troise said.