Disabled veterans get into the swing of things

Published 9:29 pm Saturday, May 5, 2012

Disabled veterans at Suffolk Golf Course Thursday say the golf event helps them find pleasure in everyday life after the stress of war.

The lush, peaceful fairways of Suffolk Golf Course were a long way from the sandblasted camps and firefights of Iraq and Afghanistan for a group of disabled veterans Thursday.

In an event organized by the Disabled American Veterans Department of Virginia, men and women from the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center domiciliary, most of them suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, enjoyed one another’s company as much as the golf itself.

It was a chance for them to get reacquainted with one of life’s pleasures after, in many cases, years of living in survival mode in conflict zones, medical center worker Marguerite Rodgers said.

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“They come out here on a field trip to learn about social and pleasurable activities,” she said.

The department’s Rita Aberegg said: “I can’t speak from experience, but just imagine that you are on guard 24/7 and you don’t know who to trust, and now you come back to the States and you are probably still looking over your shoulder.”

Many female veterans deal with after-effects of sexual abuse as well as combat-related injuries, according to Women’s Committee Chair Robin Whitehead, who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom.

She returned with PTSD after exposure to a “traumatic event.”

“A lot of women are slipping through the cracks and being missed concerning mental health issues and benefits,” she said.

Jillian Hatch and Kevin Bragg, who paused to talk mid-swing, were also in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It’s really good, when you have PTSD, just to be relaxed and to be with my family — these people are my family,” Hatch said.

Bragg said the day was a “good stress-reliever. It’s good camaraderie to be around the other vets; it’s a nice thing.”

Isaac Baker, a Disabled American Veterans chaplain who organized the event, said it was intended to inspire and motivate.

“If they have a dream or a desire, whatever, this gives them the motivation to live that dream,” he said.

As for the therapeutic benefits of golf — notoriously a frustrating sport for some — Suffolk Golf Course Director of Instruction Rick Bidnick said it works wonders.

“They get out here and kind of forget a lot of the things they have been through and enjoy nature,” he said.

Pro shop manager Eddie Luke said many veterans who attend the annual golf day experience unimaginable things. “You hear a lot of stories from these people, and you say ‘Wow!’” he said.