WISCONSIN — A four-day golf camp aims to improve veterans and first responders’ mental health.
Next 18 was founded by Matthew McDonell, a United States Army veteran. His nonprofit encourages bonding and healing for veterans and first responders in Wisconsin and beyond.
The free retreat combines PGA golf instruction with physical and mental health workshops.
“We have vets and first responders here; we literally cover every subset of the population, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation. That’s one of the great things about what we are doing: It is completely bi-partisan. It’s just about mental health,” said McDonell.
McDonell said he knows the mental health struggles veterans and first responders face first-hand.
McDonell served in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013 and later was medically retired. When he got home, he said the trauma he experienced overseas came home with him.
“It cost me a marriage; it cost me a business. It almost cost me my life,” said McDonell.
McDonell said after battling addiction to prescription medication, he hit rock bottom and decided to get help. After treatment, he earned his master’s in social work so he could help others understand trauma.
Helping others, he said, was one of the motivating factors behind starting his golf camp. It’s supported by the PGA.
Next 18 employs some of its alumni, too. Shaun Berhow is Next 18’s operations manager. He also understands the aftereffects of trauma.
The Next 18 alumni said three years after his two deployments to Afghanistan, he started to struggle. He said he didn’t know how to talk about it because he believed his service was solely his duty.
“We didn’t do it for attention; I did those things, so I didn’t have to share those experiences or for other people to have to go through those things. So being able to share with similar minded people is a big comfort,“ said Berhow.
Berhow is not only a military veteran, but also a first responder. He currently works as an emergency paramedic.
“You rarely hear about groupings of vets and first responders together and that’s what makes it so unique. We have so many similar experiences. One’s considered a combat role; one isn’t. But what we experience is virtually the same,” said Berhow.
Next 18 is based in Wisconsin with antendees from 19 states. For more information, click here.