THE PLAYERS announces $1 million donation to support new program for veterans
When THE PLAYERS announced today its $1 million gift to UF Health Jacksonville, supporting veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and other invisible wounds of war, Tiger was present.
This Tiger isn’t the two-time PLAYERS champion and 82-time PGA TOUR winner who is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time. He is a special dog that hasn’t left Dee Myrick’s side since April of 2014.
When Myrick first transitioned to civilian life after serving in the Air Force for 23 years, he never left his house.
“I would run from the sun, I would be in the house, because that would be the safest place for me,” said Myrick.
But when Myrick met Tiger, everything changed.
Myrick and Tiger met thanks to K9s For Warriors, the nation’s largest provider of trained Service Dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma. K9s For Warriors is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, just a few miles away from THE PLAYERS Championship.
Founded in 2011 by Shari Duval, the late stepmother to THE PLAYERS 1999 champion David Duval, K9s For Warriors follows an innovative program that allows the K9/Warrior team to build an unwavering bond that facilitates their collective healing and recovery.
THE PLAYERS has supported K9s For Warriors since its founding, and each year since 2012 has provided funding that sponsors a K9 who is named after a PLAYERS champion. That is how Tiger the K9 came to be.
Myrick isn’t alone in his struggles with PTSD and the invisible wounds of war. During their time on the battlefield, about 900,000 servicemen and servicewomen develop symptoms consistent with, or are diagnosed with, post-traumatic stress, or PTS. An estimated 560,000 service members sustain a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. These conditions contribute to a suicide rate of more than 20 veterans per day, a figure that has increased every year since 2002.
The invisible wounds of war are plaguing the lives of veteran men and women at increasingly alarming rates across the country, but especially in Northeast Florida, home to one of the largest military and veteran populations in the U.S.
The community where THE PLAYERS is held is the same community where one military member is committing suicide per day, according to data averages. Couple that alarming statistic with the isolation and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these wounds have worsened further.
But on Friday, November 19, a new program officially opened less than 30 miles from THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass that will help veterans as they recover from the medical issues and invisible wounds related to their service.
The new UF Health Jacksonville Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., Brain Wellness Program will provide transformative care to veterans and first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, depression, anxiety and substance use disorder.
During the ribbon cutting ceremony, THE PLAYERS Executive Director Jared Rice announced a $1 million commitment from the championship to support the program’s efforts and provide naming rights to the center’s lobby (THE PLAYERS Lobby) as well as its K9s kennel (THE PLAYERS Kennel).
“When Dr. Haley and the UF Health team shared the data and stories with us about the dramatic rise in mental health challenges plaguing veterans in our community, THE PLAYERS knew we needed to respond,” said Rice. “Military support has long been a key part of this championship, and we are honored to help UF Health in its mission to bring this transformative network of care to our community’s heroes. This donation is made possible because of our Proud Partners, sponsors, volunteers and fans who support and attend this championship every year.”
The new Haley Brain Wellness Program will be part of a national network of treatment sites established by the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network and the first program within this network in Florida.
“We are proud at the University of Florida and I am proud as a veteran to be a part of this national effort,” said Michael J. Sorna Jr., M.D. Assistant Professor, Medical Director of Addiction Psychiatry Services and the Brain Wellness Program and Colonel Medical Corps U.S. Army (Retired). “This will be transformational care….in order to provide patient-centered, highly collaborative and integrated care to heal the whole person, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
During the first five years, more than 900 veterans, service members, first responders and their families will be able to walk into THE PLAYERS Lobby at the program and have access to a team of behavioral neurologists, physical therapists, neuropsychologists, case managers and integrative therapists who will use programs including healing arts, equine therapy, pet therapy, yoga, sleep analysis and more to help heal veterans wholistically – mind, body and spirit.
Myrick’s message to the community of supporters who helped him is this:
“Thank you. You allowed an old, stubborn Air Force officer to try to live a productive life as best he can…I figured I could do it myself, but I couldn’t do this by myself.”