VA, Paralympic Partnership Successful but Not Yet Available Everywhere

WASHINGTON — The partnership between VA and U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has gotten veterans nationwide involved in adaptive sports as a further step in rehabilitation and to better re-enter society after a grievous physical injury.

For the program to continue to continue to succeed, however, more communities need to take advantage of the resources the partnership offers, and more staff is needed to help coordinate recreational activities at the regional level.

Spreading Adaptive Sports

Former Marine Coprs Sgt. Tim Conner one of 59 Paralympic military athletes, practces sprints in a racing wheelchair on McCool Memorial Track during the 2011 U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Military Sports Camp at Naval Station Newport. – (U.S. Navy photo by Lisa Rama)

“There was a good reason to direct VA to partner with U.S. Paralympics, and that was to use the cache of the Olympic brand and its ability to attract local and national organizations. Just as important, we saw how the Olympic brand would attract disabled veterans to adaptive sports,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-IN., chairman of the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity at a recent hearing evaluating the partnership. “That strategy has worked very well. It appears that thousands more disabled veterans are now involved in adaptive sports and at the elite levels, our national Paralympic and adaptive sports teams now include many more disabled veterans.”

Yet, he noted there are many areas of the country, including VA hospitals, which do not provide veterans with access to adaptive sports or even recreational therapy, in general.

“When committee staff visited a Midwestern VA medical center and asked the director about the hospital’s recreational therapy program, the reply was, ‘We don’t have Bingo here.’ I find that myopic view of a well-documented rehabilitation resource incredible, and I intend to speak with Chairwoman [Ann Marie] Buerkle about taking a look at VA’s national recreational therapy program — or lack of a program,” Stutzman said. “If nothing else, it should be a major source of participants for the VA-Paralympic program.”

Christopher Nowak, VA’s Director of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, testified that word about the two-year-old partnership is still spreading among VA facilities and that they are actively trying to link veterans with adaptive sports programs.

“We are partnering with USOC to educate VA clinicians on [the benefits of adaptive sports]. I think they’re the gatekeepers for a portion of this. My office is also working to develop tools to allow veterans to find these services in their community and letting veterans know that these opportunities are there.”

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