Army veteran Richard Rodriguez experienced the outdoors like he never had before. For over four hours, he practiced a new sport in the company of fellow Veterans. He was at the Whittier Narrows Golf Course in Rosemead as part of the Recreational Therapy Golf Day, one of the many events organized by JVS SoCal Veterans Services team to support the well-being of veterans and their families during Military Appreciation Month and beyond.
Richard is a member of JVS SoCal’s Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN) team and participated in the event in hopes of meeting potential program participants. Our agency operates VPAN in two districts of Los Angeles County, stretching from the San Gabriel Valley to Northeast L.A., and Antelope Valley to the North. The program was launched in 2019 to address homelessness, unemployment, and mental health within the veteran community through peer support specialists, an evidence-based practice endorsed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Richard enlisted in the military at age 17. He served in Iraq and Kosovo and was in the Army Reserves for 16 years and understands the challenges veterans face when they return to civilian life. Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Richard struggled to maintain structure in his life and at one point he was unhoused. When asked about PTSD, Richard takes a long pause and says, “I live with it every day of my life.”
When Richard sought help at the Veterans America’s Job Centers of California at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, he learned about the wide range of services available to Veterans. This made him a perfect candidate to become a Peer Support Specialist at JVS SoCal’s VPAN SD1, a role reserved for caseworkers that share similar experiences with the people they work with to help them better navigate the system.
Taking part in wellness events like this golf outing gives veterans the opportunity to make connections through recreation and receive information about services that are critical to maintaining their health and well-being.
“Sometimes [Veterans] just need someone to go and talk to,” says Richard about his role, and likens it to “Battle Buddies” in the U.S. Army, a system in which soldiers are partnered to watch over each other. Richard believes the peer-to-peer support approach is critical because it gives participants a sense of purpose and connection to fellow Veterans.
“At first I thought, ‘no one wants to play golf’”, says Richard about his reaction when he was asked to participate in VPAN’s Recreational Therapy Golf Day, “but later I understood that it was not even about golf; it was about you spending time with other Veterans that haven’t been out in some time. It was about connecting.”
For more information about JVS SoCal’s veterans’ wellness events throughout the year, please follow our social channels and visit Veterans Services at jvs-socal.org.
The Recreational Therapy Golf Day event was made possible in partnership with Battleship USS IOWA, and 42MM, an organization dedicated to serving the military community through golf.