Disabled veterans conquer barriers on the course

Sports

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Laura Carter has played golf for 66 years now, and she has the documents to prove it.

On a hot Friday morning, Carter carries with her the official paperwork from enrollment in golf school some 40 years ago.

Back then green fees were just $1.50, but the game has seen many changes since then.

But now at the age of 96, Carter is still carving up the course.

“From the time I started it, I loved it,” Carter said.

And while a hole-in-one 60 years ago ranks high on her life accomplishments, serving in World War II stands out above the rest.

“I was Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class,” Carter said. “(In the navy?) Yes. (How long did you serve?) About two and a half years. When the war ended, I got out.”

The US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates just 389,000 World War II veterans are still alive in 2019.

Carter was lucky enough to return from the war without major physical or mental disabilities, but not all veterans are as lucky.

“It messes with people everyday and there’s no getting rid of it, Vietnam veteran and co-program leader Roger Wasson said. “How do you cure a memory of shooting somebody, killing them and then pulling their families picture out of their pocket. How do you do that?”

The number of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder is hard to pin down as researchers are still learning about the condition.

Veteran Affairs says about 15 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, and finds similar statistics for more recent wars.

This suffering stems from the experience of a terrifying event, resulting in symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts and emotions.

PTSD, along with other disabilities suffered from military service, are plaguing the veteran community and resulting in an estimated 20 veteran and active military suicides per day.

These servicemen and women experience a common problem rejoining society after service because of the symptoms they face.

Here in Springfield, however, a few dozen have found a similar place to conquer that: on the tee box.

“I’ve never seen an angry face out on the golf course,” Wasson said. “Everybody is laughing and having a good time.”

It is all part of PGA HOPE, a program that invites veterans onto the course once a week for exercise, fun and most importantly socialization.

“You’re with your own,” Desert Storm veteran Karen Dicky said. “You understand each other, so that’s the important thing. You have no issues with that and I love it.”

This is just Carter’s second week with the program and it’s helping her get valuable time outside.

For others, it may be saving their life.

Important programs like this one, however, don’t come free.

On July 20th, Rivercut Golf Course is hosting a tournament to raise funds in hopes of reaching even more veterans than the dozens already involved here in Springfield.

The tournament will be a nine-hole scramble with four person teams. Entry includes golf, carts, range balls, lunch, tee gifts and refreshments.

“If you google PGA HOPE slash reach you’ll see there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 programs in the nation,” Wasson said. “That’s a drop in the bucket what it should be.”

With more funding would come more help and hopefully more participants like Laura Carter.

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