William Márquez attended the Winter Sports Clinic for the first time this year. When asked who helped him make it from the U.S. Army to the slopes of Snowmass, Colo. – he credits “a cast of thousands”. However this cast of thousands did not include the VA until recently.
Márquez did not use the VA when he left the Army. As a matter of fact, when he was discharged he left the military life behind and did not even identify as a Veteran. He did not really think the VA was for him.
It took another Veteran recommending that he use the VA before he finally came around. His friend kept encouraging that he sign up for care and, after using the VA emergency services, things changed. The VA staff stayed in touch with him and kept recommending additional care until he got the proper diagnosis and help he needed. It was a long process but one he believes has been worth sticking with.
One of the Recreational Therapists accompanying William to the Winter Sports Clinic is Colleen Virzi. Often Veterans will come to Virzi and she will recommend a ski program or some other kind of adaptive sport — and the Veterans are often surprised.
“They are not chomping at the bit to try something like skiing (when they have never skied before) especially when they are dealing with a new injury or diagnosis,” Virzi said. “It takes a lot of encouragement to get Vets involved locally to prepare them for an event this size.”
The benefit of recreational therapy is amazing. People who feel uncomfortable and anxious around big crowds and trying new things are transformed. For Colleen, she sees the progress is as much physiological as physical.
“I see Vets increase their motivation to stay active physically, stay active in their community, and stay active in their treatment, which is beneficial in all aspects of health care. It shows Veterans what they are capable of – if they didn’t already know it. “
For Márquez, getting involved with the VA has meant getting in touch with other Veterans that provide him with a support group.
“You get to interact with other Veterans that have other similar disabilities and issues and it’s also good to interact with other Veterans with similar backgrounds” Márquez said.
One Veteran friend in particular gave him some advice early that stuck with him when he said to William, “Don’t say ‘no’ to what is being offered and take the opportunities that present themselves”. Márquez sees this as more than good advice for the VA – it is good advice for life.
“It’s been a lot of work but it is a good process,” Márquez said.
Randy McCracken is a Communications Specialist at the VHA Rehabilitation Services