UF Health, Gary Sinise Foundation cut ribbon on new center

THE PLAYERS Championship, VyStar Credit Union, Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation join effort to heal veterans


UF Health Jacksonville, the Gary Sinise Foundation and philanthropic partners came together Friday to cut the ribbon on a new facility that brings comprehensive brain health care to Northeast Florida.

The groundbreaking effort will help veterans as they recover from medical issues 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. The innovative effort is based in a region that is home to one of the largest military populations in the country, including Naval Station Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

The clinic, the first and only one of its kind in the state of Florida, is a collaboration between UF Health and the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network, in partnership with, and fueled by, the Marcus Foundation and Arthur M. Blank Foundation, and is receiving crucial support from THE PLAYERS Championship, which announced a donation of $1 million Friday. VyStar Credit Union and the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation also made philanthropic contributions to help construct the new space and create a fund to support veterans’ care.

“The ability to help veterans and the military, which are part of the fabric of Northeast Florida, is an honor for UF Health and the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville,” said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “This transformative program was a priority of Dr. Haley’s before his tragic passing, and we are simply continuing his mission of serving our community. We believe focusing our efforts on this initiative is one of the ways to do that and will reduce some of the burden facing veterans.”

The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network is the first comprehensive traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress network available free-of-charge to veterans, service members and first responders nationwide. By leveraging the science of post-traumatic growth — a framework that explains the positive transformation that can occur following trauma — the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will empower veterans and first responders to cope with, and overcome, trauma and in doing so, transform lives.

"Since before the creation of the Gary Sinise Foundation, it has been Gary’s life mission to support and uplift our nation’s veterans, service members, first responders and their families,” said Mike Thirtle, CEO of the Gary Sinise Foundation. “Addressing their mental wellness is in the very fabric that makes GSF what it is today. And today, we couldn’t be more excited to add UF Health Jacksonville to the GSF Avalon Network to address those very needs for the local communities. Too many of these heroes are losing the battle to post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and substance use disorder every day. Our nation's heroes have sacrificed so much defending our country and deserve to have the best possible tools at their disposal to address their mental wellness needs."

Gary Sinise joins the co-founders of The Home Depot and philanthropists Bernie Marcus and Arthur M. Blank, who each invested $20 million from their personal foundations to lay the groundwork for the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network. Both are motivated to improve and expand upon the care provided to veterans and first responders, and the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network marks the first time that Bernie Marcus and Arthur M. Blank have partnered together since co-founding The Home Depot.

“We are very excited to add UF Health Jacksonville to our national network of centers treating veterans and their families,” said Marcus. “Our nation’s veterans have put their lives on the line, and we are building this network for them. It’s the least we can do to honor their service.”

The Haley Brain Wellness Program will serve military veterans suffering from invisible wounds of war, specifically mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

The program will also serve non-veterans, helping subsidize the cost of care for veterans.

The new collaboration is made possible through several donations, including a $12.5 million grant to UF Health Jacksonville from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network. The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network’s mission is scaling the proven approaches designed at the MIBH and Boulder Crest to establish 20 treatment sites nationwide to serve thousands of veterans and first responders with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

Other community partners say they are also thrilled to be part of a groundbreaking initiative.

“We are honored to support the UF Health Jacksonville Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., Brain Wellness Program and its efforts to bring this network of care to our community’s heroes,” said Jared Rice, executive director of THE PLAYERS. “As part of our longstanding passion for supporting our Northeast Florida military and veteran community, we are proud to make this donation, which is made possible because of our Proud Partners, sponsors, volunteers and fans.”

“VyStar is proud to come together with UF Health Jacksonville and other distinguished community partners to support veterans and first responders,” said VyStar President/CEO Brian Wolfburg. “Wellness comes in many forms, and we look forward to the lasting impact this program will make.”

During their time on the battlefield, thousands of servicemen and servicewomen are affected by post-traumatic stress and/or suffer traumatic brain injuries, and when they return home, they may struggle with health symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and substance misuse. The UF Health Brain Wellness Program will deliver comprehensive mind, body and spirit solutions to address those needs and those of others throughout the region.

The UF Health Brain Wellness Program is an interdisciplinary effort that uses intensive outpatient treatment led by a comprehensive team of behavioral neurologists, physical therapists, neuropsychologists, case managers and integrative therapists, using programs including healing arts, equine therapy, pet therapy, yoga, sleep analysis and more.

The new program is located on UF Health Jacksonville’s campus in the Professional Office Building at 1833 Boulevard. Call 904-244-3289 for more information, or go to the following websites: ufhealthjax.org/brain-wellness or garysinisefoundation.org.