Font Size Down Font Size Up Reset Font Size

Sign Up for Committee Updates

 

Witness Testimony of Colonel Richard G. Cardillo, Jr., USA, (Ret.), Military Sport Program Coordinator, U.S. Association of Blind Athletes

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that has provided life-enriching sports opportunities for children, youth and adults who are blind and visually impaired for the past 35 years.  Through our partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, USABA has strengthened our collective effort to enhance the lives of disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces who are blind and visually impaired in order to enhance their rehabilitation process through sport, physical activity, and recreation and, most importantly to assist them in the reintegration back into their home communities.

This is a collective programming effort with the United States Olympic Committee, the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as national and community-based adaptive sports programs in an effort to enhance the lives of Veterans who are blind and visually impaired.  Some of the USABA program accomplishments include: 

  • Grown programming efforts from 19 Veterans in 2008 to over 300 Veterans today

  • Includes recreational, developing, emerging athletes 

  • Working collaboratively with the VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers

  • Integrated / immersed select VA BRC staff into a “train-the-trainer” model

  • Constant program expansion

  • Promote program participation with other community-based programs

  • Established a formal relationship with the Department of Defense Vision Center of Excellence

We see 3 recommendations in enhancing the current program initiative. 

  • Identification and sharing of contact information

  • Re-establish the funding stream from the VA for the continued support to the BRCs

  • Spousal and family inclusion in the rehabilitation process

USABA again expresses our thanks for the recent support that the subcommittee on economic opportunity has made to these various programs over the past 2 years.   Our Nation’s greatest assets are those individuals who have served and continue to serve…and we should continue to provide opportunities for these individuals as best we can for as long as we can.


The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that has provided life-enriching sports opportunities for children, youth and adults who are blind and visually impaired for the past 35 years.  Through our partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, USABA has strengthened our collective effort to enhance the lives of disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces who are blind and visually impaired in order to enhance their rehabilitation process through sport, physical activity, and recreation and, most importantly to assist them in the reintegration back into their home communities.  On behalf of USABA, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to present our views on the partnership and progress between the United States Olympic Committee’s Paralympics Division and the Department of Veterans Affairs in promoting adaptive sports for our Nation’s Veterans. 

This morning I would like to take this opportunity to explain what this initiative has meant to USABA and, more importantly, to highlight some of the accomplishments and the impact this has had over the past three years; none of which would be possible without the cooperation and partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as national and community-based adaptive sports programs in an effort to enhance the lives of Veterans who are blind and visually impaired.

  • USABA has grown our Operation Mission Vision programming efforts from a start of 19 Veterans interested in enhancing their personal lives through sport and physical activity in 2008 to over 300 Veterans today.  Those same Veterans are living at home and training in local community-based fitness centers around the United States.

  • Chuck Sketch, U.S. Marine Corps, Wildomar, California, blind and double above the knee amputee: “Participation in sports has put my life into advanced hyper-drive!  Today, I’m living a life that my sighted friends can only dream of.”

  • Many of these Veterans have recognized the health benefits that physical activity has on improving their daily lives.  A select few of those Veterans have been able to take their level of physical activity and skills to a higher level through the U.S. Paralympic emerging athlete program in hopes of making the U.S. Paralympic National team.  For example:

  • Chester Triplett, U.S. Army, Mooresville, North Carolina: recently participated at the U.S. Track Nationals in Tandem Cycling in Carson, CA in hopes of making the U.S. Paralympic National Team; Chester won the 200 meter time trial, placed 2nd in the 1,000 meter time trial and qualified to compete in the 2012 Para-Cycling World Track Championships in the city of  Los Angeles in February.

  • Through our Military Sport Program, we work directly with the VA staff at 9 of the 13 VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRCs) in an effort to enhance the rehabilitation programs at the VA BRCs by assisting them in connecting with local community-based organizations, and in some cases, Paralympic Sport Clubs.  Examples include:

  • Southeastern BRC in Birmingham, AL currently takes Veterans on a weekly basis to the Lakeshore Foundation; a local Paralympic Sport Club.  The Lakeshore Foundation is an Alabama-based non-profit organization that promotes independence for persons with physically disabling conditions and provides opportunities to pursue active, healthy lifestyles;

  • Western BRC in Palo Alto, CA has a tremendous weekly relationship with a local tandem cycling club and is developing a working relationship with the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement; a local Paralympic Sport Club.  The Riekes Center for Human Enhancement is a California-based non-profit organization that offers programs in athletic fitness, creative arts and nature awareness;

  • American Lakes BRC in Tacoma, WA has a golfing program with a local community golf course and is working to expand their programming efforts with the Tacoma Parks and Recreation and a local community-based rowing program.

  • We’ve worked closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs over the past 2 years on immersing select VA BRC recreation therapists and specialists into our summer sports program in a “train-the-trainer” model.  The adaptive sports programming knowledge gained is easily transferable back into the BRC recreation efforts.

  • We are continuously expanding existing programming efforts to include greater Veteran participation at USABA’s Operation Mission Vision sports programs; such as developmental and learn to race cycling and rowing camps; and the California International Marathon.

  • Gilbert Magallanes, U.S. Army, Clarksville, Tennessee:  “Without USABA’s Operation Mission and many other programs that help wounded Soldiers, I wouldn’t have gotten past my injury or depression as easy.  I’m no longer depressed.  I stayed off the couch.  I used to weigh 287 pounds and now I’m 213; and I’m not going back.  I’m not quitting.  Playing sports and staying active outside saved my life.”

  • We encourage and assist Veteran participation at other community-based programs, U.S. Paralympic programs and VA adaptive sports programs being offered around the United States.

  • Lonnie Bedwell, U.S.Navy, Dugger, Indiana:  (See Attached Exhibit A.)

  • Facilitated in establishing a memorandum of understanding between the US Paralympic Military Program and the Department of Defense Vision Center of Excellence (DoD VCoE).  This memorandum of understanding strengthens the on-going relationship between the two organizations and will continue to enhance the rehabilitation of Veterans and injured Service Members who are blind and visually impaired.

We see three recommendations in enhancing the current program initiative.  In working with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense Vision Center of Excellence, our first recommendation for program improvement is the identification and sharing of contact information for every disabled Veteran who is blind and visually impaired.  Having that level of accessibility would then maximize our efforts in reaching out to all disabled Veterans who are blind and visually impaired.  Secondly, USABA would like to re-establish the funding stream from the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow for the continuation of support and services to the VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers in order to enhance the lives of Veterans who are blind and visually impaired.  Thirdly, with the continuation of this initiative, we would like to see an expansion of the current programming efforts to include the Veteran’s spouse and family.  Having spent the first 53 years of my life in the military I know all too well the positive influence the military family has on the service member.  The inclusion of the family in these programming efforts is paramount to the success of the Veteran’s rehabilitation.

USABA again expresses our thanks for the recent support that the subcommittee on economic opportunity has made to these various programs over the past 2 years.   Our Nation’s greatest assets are those individuals who have served and continue to serve…and we should continue to provide opportunities for these individuals as best we can for as long as we can.  On behalf of USABA, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to testify today and I will be glad to answer any questions at this time.


17 March 2011

To Whom it May Concern,

I want to start this letter by thanking everyone involved with putting this program together.  As you will soon tell, I am not very good with words.  So please forgive me as it is truly heart felt.  When I sit back and reflect on this past weekend I am so humbled and grateful.  I had the opportunity to meet a little 7 year old visually impaired girl who is completely full of life.  I am in awe of someone that never had the blessings in life to see as many years as I did.  I also met a man who sacrificed so much in combat and spent months in hospitals and has had 58 surgeries to piece him back together.  Even after all of these surgeries he is still not whole.  Not to mention all of the others who I was so fortunate to meet.  You can never walk in another man’s shoes.  But, you can gain knowledge as well as draw strength and inspiration from their life’s experience.

Whether you realize it or not, you have made a major impact on so many lives.  Here are a few things you have done for those of us who had the opportunity to participate in this program.  We have developed new friendships that in some cases I’m sure will last for years.  Walls that were solid, you not only placed a door in them; you also opened it for us.  You have provided us with a new since of hope and drive.  Thoughts like the following once again go through my mind:  “I really can do this.”, “I wonder how much better at this I can get?”, and “just what else can I really do?”.  In my mind aren’t these wonderful thoughts?

With regards to my family, here are some of the things you have done for them:  you placed tears of joy in my mother’s eyes.  My father told me “I’m proud of you son”.  At the age of 45 this almost brings tears to my eyes.  As for the rest of my family it also provides them with joy and a new sense of strength.

In my community you have put me on a platform to help others as you have helped me.  What a humbling honor this is.  In just a few short weeks of people finding out I was heading to Colorado and 2 days of being back the following has happened.  Almost a countless number of people have called my house or approached me to talk.  A mother came up to me crying and thanking me.  She said “You don’t know how much of a difference you make in my daughter’s life as she watches and listens to you”.  A couple said “You make us realize how little we have to complain about”.  A gentleman talked with me for 30 minutes about the whole event in the local restaurant.  That I know of, I had never spoken to any of these people before.  This doesn’t include the others I don’t know and those I do.

For those who put this program together, took care of us at the lodge, guided us on the slopes, and financially supported this I want to thank you once again.  So you see, you have not only touch the lives of those of us privileged enough to participate in this event.  You have touched the lives of literally hundreds.  I just hope that I can represent all of your efforts and support in a manner that will also make you proud.

Sincerely

Lonnie R. Bedwell
US Navy
Dugger, Indiana

EXHIBIT A