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Witness Testimony of Carl Blake, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed Veterans of America

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

PVA Sponsors National Veterans' Wheelchair Games

  • 2011 was 26th year PVA has co-hosted with VA
  • Held in Pittsburgh, PA
  • 567 veterans participated.
  • 41 were veterans of (OEF/OIF)
  • 126 of the veterans were first-time participants
  • Next year will be held in Richmond, VA
  • Encourage Subcommittee members to attend

PVA supported the provisions of Public Law 110-389, the “Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008”

  • The intent of the law is consistent with the mission of PVA’s Sports and Recreation
  • Program which is to expand the quantity and quality of sports and recreation opportunities, especially those that promote lifetime fitness and a healthy lifestyle, for PVA members and other people with disabilities.
  • Law promotes disabled sports from the local level through elite levels.
  • Creates partnerships among organizations specializing in supporting, training, and promoting programs for disabled veterans

PVA has benefited directly from Paralympics support

  • Received $400,000 in December 2010
  • Funded activities for 805 unique disabled veterans; 4,261 participation opportunities
  • PVA Handcycling Program ($175,000); National Veterans Wheelchair Games $125,000);
  • PVA National Trapshoot Circuit ($50,000); PVA/AWBA Bowling Tournament Series ($50,000)

Much progress and enhanced cooperation has resulted from the Paralympics Program and its partnership with VA

  • Disabled sports and recreation activities have a positive impact not only on disabled service members and veterans, but on their families as well

  • Enhances self-esteem, reduces stress and the incidence of secondary medical conditions, and obviously improves conditioning

  • Allows disabled service members and veterans to reengage with family, friends, and the community

  • PVA has transitioned a number of severely disabled veterans from our sports and recreation programs into our Vocational Rehabilitation program

Recommendations

  • Transparency for credibility

  • USOC-Paralympics should implement a review committee that consists of leaders from the adapted sports and recreation community who administer programs for disabled veterans
  • Congress complete appropriations; hindering administration of program


Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to be here today on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to offer our views on the partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Paralympics program.  As we have testified in the past, treatment and rehabilitation through sports and recreation for severely injured service members and veterans is an important part of returning these men and women to a normal life.  We would like to thank this Subcommittee particularly for its efforts to expand sports and recreation opportunities for disabled service members and veterans. 

Perhaps no veterans’ service organization understands the importance of sports as a rehabilitation tool more than PVA.  Since its inception in 1946, PVA has recognized the important role that sports and recreation play in the spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation process. In fact, it was paralyzed veterans, injured during World War II, who first started playing pick-up games of wheelchair basketball in VA hospitals.  This marked the birth of wheelchair sports.  Doctors quickly realized the significance of these types of activities and the powerful therapeutic benefits on the physical, mental and social state that could be derived from participating in wheelchair sports. It is for this reason that PVA developed, and annually administers, a comprehensive sports and recreation program for its members and other Americans with disabilities.

PVA sponsors a wide array of sports and outdoor recreation events to improve the quality of life and health of veterans with severe disabilities.  Most notable of these activities is the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) which PVA has co-sponsored with the Department of Veterans Affairs for 26 years.  In fact the most recent Games just wrapped up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in July.  This year, the NVWG drew 567 veterans.  Of that number, 41 were veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).  More importantly, 126 of the veterans were first-time participants.  PVA has one of the highest participation rates of members in this event.  Next summer, PVA, along with the VA, will host the NVWG in Richmond, Virginia—site of the very first Wheelchair Games.  We would encourage the Subcommittee to consider a day trip (or longer) to observe this incredible event firsthand.  Likewise, we fully support the activities of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the National Veterans Golden Age Games, and the National Creative Arts Festival.   

In recent years, PVA has conducted significant outreach at Department of Defense (DOD) and VA hospitals to make its sports and recreation programs available to recently injured Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans, and now to veterans of Operation New Dawn.  In fact, PVA was recognized in 2007 by the staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for our important work with the men and women being treated at that facility. In addition, in 2008 PVA edited a chapter in the DOD medical handbook Care of the Combat Amputee entitled “Sports and Recreation Opportunities for the Combat Amputee” to be included.

PVA was pleased to support the provisions of Public Law 110-389, the “Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008.”  Section 7 of the law authorized the VA to provide assistance to the Military Paralympics Program and expand sports and recreation opportunities available to severely disabled veterans.  The intent of the law is consistent with the mission of PVA’s Sports and Recreation Program which is to expand the quantity and quality of sports and recreation opportunities, especially those that promote lifetime fitness and a healthy lifestyle, for PVA members and other people with disabilities.  As we have testified in the past, PVA’s primary goal for its Sports and Recreation Program is all about health care and rehabilitation first.

P.L. 110-389 specifically emphasizes the need to enhance the recreation activities provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs by promoting disabled sports from the local level through elite levels and by creating partnerships among organizations specializing in supporting, training, and promoting programs for disabled veterans. This will be accomplished by providing training, technical assistance and equipment and Paralympics mentors for injured veterans to participate in daily physical activity at the community level as an aspect of their rehabilitation. 

PVA has been fortunate to benefit directly from the expansion of activities under the USOC-Paralympics program.  PVA was a grant recipient of one of the first round of grants provided by the USOC.  In December 2010, PVA received a $400,000 grant of financial support from the USOC for the U.S. Paralympics Integrated Adaptive Sports Program.  This funding was intended to cover program support activities through June 2011, when the next round of grants would be disbursed. 

With the financial support of the Paralympics, PVA was able to provide sports and recreation opportunities to 805 unique disabled veterans.  Ultimately, 4,261 participation opportunities were made available to disabled veterans.  PVA allocated the grant funding in the following manner: 

  • PVA Handcycling Program ($175,000)

  • National Veterans Wheelchair Games ($125,000)

  • PVA National Trapshoot Circuit ($50,000)

  • PVA/AWBA Bowling Tournament Series ($50,000)

Funding dedicated towards the Handcycling Program allowed us to move plans forward from preliminary stages and create 3,371 affiliated recreational, competitive, and training participation opportunities.  A total of 83 unique disabled veterans took part in the program.  We were able to host four regional adaptive cycling clinics in the following cities:  Seattle, Washington; Palo Alto, California; Tampa, Florida; and Boston, Massachusetts.  The Paralympics grant was also used to fund Paralyzed Veterans Racing team members who participated in the United States Handcycling Federation racing series nationwide.

Support provided to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games provided an excellent opportunity for the Paralympics to conduct outreach as a part of its recruitment efforts for the 2012 London Olympic Games.  We were able to introduce events similar to those found at the Paralympics at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which identified veterans with the potential to be future Paralympics-level athletes. 

PVA was also pleased to provide funding from the Paralympics grant for shooting sports as a part of our National Trapshoot Circuit.  The grant supported a total of 77 unique disabled veterans who participated in 187 participation opportunities.  We successfully hosted 15 trapshoot tournaments throughout the United States.  These tournaments introduced disabled veterans to the sport of trapshooting by providing certified instructors and equipment for the disabled veterans attending the events. Additionally, we were able to develop and administer secondary shooting events, including rifle, pistol, air rifle and air pistol that are held concurrently alongside the trapshoot tournaments.  These events are tailored to resemble shooting sports events that Paralympics athletes also participate in during competition.  As a result of this financial support from the Paralympics, next year PVA will implement an air rifle and air pistol program consisting of four regional tournaments to be held throughout the United States.

Finally, PVA was pleased to partner with the American Wheelchair Bowling Association (AWBA), with the backing of the USOC-Paralympics, to conduct the Bowling Tournament Series.  This series hosted a total of 62 unique disabled veterans representing 120 total participation opportunities. PVA and the AWBA successfully hosted eight bowling tournaments throughout the United States. Recently, the 50th American Wheelchair Bowling Association’s National Tournament was held in Brockton, Massachusetts as part of the New England PVA Tournament.

We believe that much progress and enhanced cooperation has resulted from the Paralympics Program and its partnership with VA.  Under this program, PVA has witnessed improved coordination between our organization, USOC-Paralympics, and other veterans’ and community-based sports organizations that has enhanced existing programs and advanced development of new programs in communities that previously had not been served.  The overall performance of the partnership between PVA, the USOC-Paralympics and the Department of Veterans Affairs has successfully produced an increased number of sports and recreation opportunities for disabled veterans.

There is no doubt that activities such as those listed above and all disabled sports and recreation activities have a positive impact not only on disabled service members and veterans, but on their families as well.  Research shows that physical activity is an important aspect of the rehabilitation process for persons with disabilities.  It enhances self-esteem, reduces stress and the incidence of secondary medical conditions, and obviously improves conditioning.  Equally important is that sports and recreation rehabilitation allows disabled service members and veterans to reengage with family, friends, and the community.  This contributes to a greater level of success in education and employment. In fact, PVA has transitioned a number of severely disabled veterans from our sports and recreation programs into our Vocational Rehabilitation program.  As those veterans became healthier and more confident, they realized that they would not be satisfied without becoming fully productive members of society once again. 

In the past, we offered several recommendations that we believed would expand veteran participation in programs administered by the VA and the Paralympics program.  While we believe that the Paralympics program has helped alleviate some of these concerns, our principal recommendation to remove barriers to participation remains the same.  Our concern is that newly injured veterans should be provided timely access to education and training regarding sports and recreation opportunities. We believe that the VA and DOD should continue to improve coordination of outreach efforts between legitimate organizations promoting sports and recreation opportunities and newly injured veterans. As participation continues to improve, we look forward to continued progress as a result of this program. 

With regard to the USOC-Paralympics program specifically, both the transparency and credibility of the process to award grants must be improved.  We are pleased to see that the USOC-Paralympics recently provided an open accounting of how it has administered its funds.  However, we believe the USOC-Paralympics should implement a review committee that consists of leaders from the adapted sports and recreation community who administer programs for disabled veterans.  The committee would be responsible for ensuring that funds are awarded appropriately, efficiently administered, and used as intended.  Increased transparency will only instill greater confidence in the success of the program. 

Finally, we have some concern about the timeliness and efficiency of funding the USOC-Paralympics program.  In order for the organization to disburse funding to grant recipients, the USOC-Paralympics program must receive federal funding in a timely manner.  VA has been slow to provide the necessary funding authorized by the original legislation to USOC-Paralympics.  The ability of the USOC-Paralympics to plan and administer the grants it provides is hindered by the inability of Congress to complete work on the appropriations for VA.  As we understand it, funding for this grant program is directed through the Secretary’s office through the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.  In other words, until the FY 2012 VA appropriations bill is finally completed, funding for this program will be placed on hold.  It truly is a shame that the success of this program hinges on the ability of Congress to fulfill one of its most important responsibilities.  Moreover, we must emphasize that the importance of this program should preclude it from having its funding reduced as a part of deficit reduction. 

PVA appreciates the focus being placed on these important programs.  We look forward to working with this Subcommittee to ensure that a wide range of sports and recreation activities are available to the men and women who have served and sacrificed. 

I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to testify.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.


Information Required by Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives

Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.

Fiscal Year 2011

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program—$300,000 (estimated).

Fiscal Year 2010

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program—$287,992.

Fiscal Year 2009

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program—$296,687.