Witness Testimony of Mr. Charles Huebner, Chief of U.S. Paralympics, U.S. Olympic Committee
Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and members of the committee, my name is Charlie Huebner and I am the Chief of Paralympics, for the United States Olympic Committee (“USOC”). Thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement and testify before this Subcommittee in support of H.R. 1402, which extends the authorization for the highly successful, innovative and cost effective partnership between the USOC and the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide Paralympic sports and sustainable physical activity opportunities for disabled veterans at the community level
Paralympic programs are sports for physically disabled athletes. It was founded and exists because of Veterans from World War II. Research has proven that Paralympic sport and physical activity is an impactful aspect of successful rehabilitation for disabled Veterans.
Research-based outcomes from consistent physical activity for disabled Veterans include higher self-esteem, lower stress levels and secondary medical conditions and higher achievement levels in education and employment.
At the beginning of combat operations the USOC expanded its service to injured members of our Armed Forces and Veterans by providing training, technical assistance and Paralympic ambassadors to installations and military medical centers. As combat escalated, Congress reached out to the USOC asking for us to do more!
I applaud the leadership in Congress, which realized that collaboration between the public and private sector, between Government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the private business sector could expand expertise and capabilities, and program awareness in a cost effective manner.
The legislation you created in Fiscal Year 2010, allowed the USOC and VA to significantly grow the capabilities and reach of physical activity programming to more than 16,000 disabled Veterans today in communities throughout America.
The authorization for this program expires at the end of Fiscal Year 2013. It is imperative that Congress act to extend the authorization for this program to ensure there is no interruption in the services being provided to our disabled veterans, and just as importantly, develop enhanced programming in collaboration with the private sector where there are significant needs.
The USOC, which itself was created by Congress, is one of only four National Olympic Committees that manage both Olympic and Paralympic sport. We are one of only a handful of National Olympic Committees that are 100% privately funded, with our major competitors outspending us often as much as 5-to-1. Innovation, collaboration and cost efficiencies are core to our organizational success and critical to this continued USOC and VA partnership.
Injured military personnel and Veterans are the soul of the Paralympic movement. When discussing the Paralympic Movement, we have two primary objectives. One: pursue excellence at the Paralympic Games. As a result of Paralympic Veteran role models and ambassadors such as Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, Army Veteran Melissa Stockwell, and Marine Veteran Oz Sanchez, the USOC and VA have been able to reach millions of Americans with stories of Veteran achievements and excellence. Second, and more importantly, the VA and USOC collectively have reached thousands of disabled Veterans and their families with stories of hope, and a roadmap to being healthy, productive and contributing members of society.
With partners such as PVA, IAVA, Disabled Sports USA and USA Hockey to name a few, the VA and USOC have created significant, sustainable and cost effective regional and local physical activity opportunities for disabled Veterans to pursue competitive excellence, but most importantly, for a majority of the thousands of physically disabled Veterans in the US to simply re-engage into society by being physically active with their sons, daughters, families, and friends.
It is as simple as skiing with your buddies again, or as one double amputee Army Ranger stated “I want to be able to run with my son.”
This Committee, Congressional leaders, and Veteran and Military organizations asked the USOC to lead this effort due to our powerful, iconic, and inspiring brand; our expertise in physical activity and sport for persons with physical disabilities; and our significant infrastructure of member organizations. We have accepted the responsibility and opportunity to serve those who have served us. And because of your leadership in developing and providing funding for this USOC and VA partnership, we are able today to report the first phase of significant program success and expansion in less than three years of this legislation. Since June 2010, the VA and USOC have:
• Distributed more than 350 grants to community sport organizations to develop sustainable physical activity programs for disabled Veterans returning to their hometowns.
• These community programs are investing millions of dollars in private resources, combined with grants from the VA – USOC grant pool, to reach thousands of Veterans with a focus on sustainable and consistent physically activity at the local level.
• The VA and USOC have emphasized and led an effort to promote collaboration between the DOD, VA and community sport organizations to recognize and enhance programmatic and financial efficiencies. To date, grant recipients have collaborated and partnered with 85 VA Medical Centers in 39 states and military treatment facilities across the country.
• Created the Paralympic Resource Network, an online database of Paralympic programs nationally which is designed to link individuals with physical and visual disabilities to sports programs in their communities. There are now 340 organizations listed. This is over 35% more than the targeted goal of 250 organizations.
• Created consistent national and regional training, technical assistance and sharing of best practices to expand availability of sustainable programming at the community level
• Distributed training stipends to over 115 Veteran athletes; 43 of these athletes have met the national team standard in their respective sports.
• Implemented regional and national public relations and communications strategies resulting in major national media campaigns and news stories that have reached millions of Americans with stories of Paralympic Veterans as national ambassadors
• Significantly expanded and implemented, accountability and oversight processes that include USOC-led internal audits of grantees, upgraded reporting and monitoring of sub-grantees, consistent USOC site visits and weekly USOC-VA grant monitoring calls
• Two staff members implementing this program are individuals with physical disabilities, one being a Veteran
Humbly, we work for an organization that has one of the most inspiring brands in the world. A brand that motivates people and organizations to get involved and to collaborate. I can’t emphasize the collaboration point enough, because collaboration also leads to significant cost efficiencies and impact!
Today, more than 350 USOC partner organizations in 46 states and the District of Columbia are investing millions in private resources, staff and facilities to cost effectively implement these programs.
One specific new example of USOC – VA innovation, impact, cost-efficiency, collaboration and enhanced awareness was the development of the regional and local Valor Games series in Chicago. Through partnership with a USOC leadership organization – World Sport Chicago – the USOC and VA identified a partner that could plan, implement, provide a majority of the funding and promote the importance and impact at a regional event for physically disabled Veterans with the primary objective and outcome being the connecting of these Veterans to everyday physical activity programs in the region. This was done with limited VA- USOC financial investment and only one USOC, and one VA staff member involved.
In closing, the need in this Country is great. More physically disabled members of our Armed Forces are returning to America’s communities, urban and rural, as heroic Veterans. Many of them are simply trying to reintegrate with their friends and families. Some want to compete.
The power of sport is one tool in the rehabilitative process that allows for our Nation’s heroes to take a small step to normalcy. Research has proven that!
I would like to thank the Committee, the VA leadership, particularly Secretary Eric Shinseki; Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers, Mike Galloucis, Executive Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs; I would like to especially commend Marine Veteran and VA leader Chris Nowak, a physically disabled Veteran who is driving change in collaboration with the VA and USOC with a primary focus on impacting Veterans in a cost effective manner. Mr. Nowak is a Marine Veteran making a difference!
Congressman Coffman, a Marine from Colorado, and Ranking Member Takano, thank you and other members of the Committee for introducing H.R. 1402.
I can simply say, you have led a collaborative and cost effective effort. You too are making a difference! A difference in the lives of those that have given our Nation so much!
I am available to take any of your questions.