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Health News Florida

UF Health Jax launches the Haley Brain Health Wellness Center for veterans and first responders

dr leon haley.jpg
UF Health Jacksonville
Leon Haley Sr., father of the late Dr. Leon Haley Jr., addresses the crowd gathered at UF Health Jacksonville for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Brain Wellness Center that bears his son's name. The ceremon was held on Nov. 19, 2021.

The center, named for the late CEO of the hospital, will serve veterans with the “invisible wounds of war," including mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, PTSD and substance abuse.

UF Health Jacksonville on Friday celebrated a ribbon-cutting for its Leon L. Haley Jr. Brain Health Wellness Center, bringing neurological and psychological care to military veterans and first responders.

The center will serve veterans suffering from the “invisible wounds of war," according to a press release, specifically mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse. The program also will serve nonveterans, helping subsidize the cost of care for vets.

“What’s remarkable to me is the fact that we are all gathered here today. This does this solder’s heart good. We have a problem, and together we can solve that problem,” Dr. Michael Sorna, medical director of the clinic, said at Friday's gathering.

The idea for the center was developed by the Dr. Leon Haley Jr., the late CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. Haley died in July in a watercraft accident in South Florida. His father, Leon Haley Sr., and other family members attended Friday's gathering.

“This resonates with me,” Haley Sr. said. “I come from a family of 12 children – nine boys. And all the boys served in the military. I’m one of them.” One brother came home from the Korean war with "problems" and would have benefitted from the new facility, he said.

“He really loved this place,” Haley Sr. said of his son’s work at UF Health Jacksonville. “People ask me, ‘How are you dealing with (his death). I’m dealing with it because of the difference he made and the lives he touched. So thank you, Jacksonville, for taking care of my son.”

The center was made possible through $12.5 million grant to UF Health Jacksonville from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network, with a $250,000 boost from the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation.

“When I formed the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, it was rooted in a personal mission to provide support, raise spirits and improve the mental wellness of our nation’s heroes and their families,” Gary Sinise, the foundation’s founder and chairman, said in the release.

“This cognitive health and mental wellness network will further expand our services to veterans and first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse to help heal the invisible wounds afflicting too many of our veterans and first responders, transforming struggle into strength and lifelong post-traumatic growth.”

An actor and philanthropist, Sinese is known for his portrayal of Vietnam veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the film Forrest Gump and New York police Detective Mac Taylor in the television series CSI: NY.

According to UF Health, the program is intensive outpatient treatment from an interdisciplinary team of experts, including neurologists, physical therapists, neuropsychologists, case managers and integrative therapists, as well as programs like equine therapy, pet therapy, yoga and sleep analysis.

Health News Florida producer Rick Mayer contributed to this report.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org or on Twitter at @sydneyboles. 

Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.