As a former member of the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team, and being one of only two disabled Veterans on the team, I know firsthand how important adaptive sports are to disabled Veterans. It’s not just about becoming an elite athlete–it’s about the entire rehab process, both professional and personally. I write to you encourage you to get involved–either as volunteer or as an athlete–and help our disabled Veterans rehab through adaptive sports.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), announced the Olympic Opportunity Fund in 2010. The program provided $1.2 million in grants to community-based organizations to create and expand ongoing Paralympic sport and physical activity programs for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.
Through this program, U.S. Paralympics and its partner organizations are collaborating to increase the number and quality of opportunities for physically or visually impaired Veterans to participate in physical activity within their home communities and in more advanced Paralympic sport programs at the regional and national levels.
These grants provide great opportunities for local VA organizations to form partnerships, ensuring that more Veterans with physical and visual disabilities have access to programs. This funding was legislated by Congress with the overall purpose to assist in the reintegration of Veterans into their communities. While VA organizations are not eligible to receive this funding, our participation and support are vital to getting Veterans to participate and ensure the program’s success. I encourage you to join together with a local organization of your choice and create a partnership with the community. A great resource for locating potential community partners is a new, online tool launched this week by U.S. Paralympics.
I’d like to emphasize that these grants are not just for programs associated with elite level athletes; these programs should focus on rehabilitation and giving Veterans opportunities to participate in sport, regardless of skill level.
On May 1st, U.S. Paralympics will announce the next phase of the Olympic Opportunity Fund, whereby the 2011 competitive grant funding details will be announced. Thank you for your support to our nation’s Veterans.
Christopher Nowak is the National Director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Paralympic Program Office.