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Witness Testimony of Christopher Nowak, Director, Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Good afternoon Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and Members of the Subcommittee. I am Chris Nowak, Director, Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, Department of Veterans Affairs.  I am honored to be here today to share the success of the partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Paralympics to promote adaptive sports.  I am also a disabled Veteran, and I believe that my personal participation in adaptive sports as part of my rehabilitation provides me with a unique perspective on this very important VA program. 

Adaptive sports can be an integral part of a Veteran’s rehabilitation from traumatic injury, illness or disease.  My office is committed to providing Veterans with the opportunity to engage in adaptive sports as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program based on clinical outcomes.  Our partnership with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) allows us to provide adaptive sporting opportunities year-round in communities where our Veterans live. 

The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-389) authorized the formation of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, which is to be headed by a Director who reports to the Secretary, Deputy Secretary or an appropriate official within the Veterans Benefits Administration.  When I joined the team as its first Director in February 2011, the office managed all VA Paralympic-related programs, to include grants, allowances and outreach, and reported to the Secretary as necessary.

On September 22, 2011, the VA’s existing office of National Programs and Special Events (NPSE), which managed VA’s National Rehabilitation Special Events, was consolidated with the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.  This consolidation permits more efficient utilization of personnel and increased capacity and flexibility to support VA adaptive sports and art therapy programs at the community and national level.  I now oversee VA’s Paralympic programs as well as the six rehabilitation special events detailed below.  I report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events is currently staffed by 19 full time employees. In addition, the team includes a consultant to aid in the consolidation of the National Rehabilitation Special Events and Paralympic programs, and a detailee from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide clinical input to the programs.  These staff not only coordinate VA’s partnership with the USOC, to include grant awards and oversight, monthly allowance assistance to Veterans and related outreach, but also to plan and to manage VA’s National Rehabilitation Special Events:  the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, National Veterans Wheelchair Games, National Veterans Golden Age Games, National Veterans TEE (Training, Experience, Exposure) Tournament, National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, and the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.  Additionally, the office coordinates VA’s commemorative event activities, such as the National Veterans Day Observance, and manages VA’s participation in the National Memorial Day observance.

The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act also authorizes VA to seek sponsorships and donations from the private sector to defray cost of carrying out the integrated adaptive sports program.  As Director, my focus has been to ensure proper use of VA grant funding, enact the monthly assistance allowance payments, and develop outreach materials.  I have also taken steps to establish sponsorship as an objective for 2012.  These steps include:

  • Establishing a Deputy Director within the office with the capability to develop clinical support for adaptive sports programs.  This will allow us to validate the clinical benefits of adaptive sports as a form of rehabilitation. 
  • Hiring my first staff member who has already established connections with media to aid in distribution of promotional materials related to the program.  
  • Developing promotional materials that will aid in recruitment of eligible Veterans as well as potential sponsors. These materials include:  an adaptive sports brochure, stickers, posters, fact sheet, outreach tool kit, a Web site and Web-based tools. 

In fiscal year 2010, VA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the USOC to provide Paralympic sport programming and additional community support, including funding and resources, to injured servicemembers and Veterans across the country.  VA subsequently awarded $7.5 million to the USOC for the integrated adaptive sports program.  VA also published regulations, developed forms and established procedures for awarding the monthly assistance allowance as authorized in Public Law 110-389. 

Moving forward in 2012, I expect to see greater coordination within VA as we consolidate the National Rehabilitation Special Events and Paralympic programs while continuing to develop our relationship with the USOC.  The overarching objective is to provide disabled Veterans with adaptive sporting opportunities year-round and to ensure that these opportunities are consistent with appropriate clinical guidelines to aid in their rehabilitation.

While VA continues to improve its current National Rehabilitation Special Events program, VA is continuing to look for new ways to enhance the rehabilitation experiences of our Veterans.  We are meeting the challenges head on and constantly exploring ways to strengthen our partnership with the USOC.  This concludes my statement, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.