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Witness Testimony of Mr. Charlie Huebner, United States Olympic Committee, Chief of U.S. Paralympics

Good afternoon Madam Chairwoman and members of the subcommittee.  My name is Charles Huebner and I am the Chief of U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee which is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.   I appreciate the opportunity to testify on HR 1370, the bill that would establish within the Department of Veteran’s Affairs an Office of National Veterans Sports Program and Special Events that would work with the United States Olympic Committee in support of certain programs directed at disabled veterans. 

By way of a brief background, the USOC is an organization chartered by Congress through what was is now known as the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.  In 1998, Paralympic terminology was added to the Act, giving the USOC the additional mandate by Congress to implement a Paralympic program for the United States.  Paralympic activity is sports for physically disabled athletes, and the Paralympic Games are held approximately two weeks after the Olympic Games and at the same Olympic venues.   The Paralympic Movement began shortly after World War II utilizing sports as a form of rehabilitation for injured military personnel returning from combat.  The Paralympic Games have become the second largest global sporting event behind the Olympic Games with more than 130 Countries and 4,000 physically disabled athletes expected to participate in the 2008 Paralympic Games.

Because this new Congressional mandate to implement a Paralympic program for the United States was not funded, it took some time to build an effective Paralympic organization.  The USOC has now, however, built an organization that employs over twenty people operating with a budget of more than $10 million dollars annually, all of these funds, of course, from private sources.

Three years ago, recognizing the growing number of U.S. military personnel returning home with physically debilitating injuries, and utilizing our experience and expertise with sport for the physically disabled, we launched the USOC Paralympic Military Program that introduced Paralympic sport to these men and women as a tool for their rehabilitation and a vehicle for their return to an active lifestyle.  Components of the Paralympic Military Program include national training of community leaders to implement Paralympic sport; clinics and mentor visits at military and VA installations; development of local community-based programs in targeted markets that have military or VA installations, and; “Paralympic Military Sports Camps,” conducted at our Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs and Chula Vista, California.  The Military Sports Camps provide an introduction to Paralympic Sport, but also the introduction of Paralympians that serve as mentors to injured military personnel and veterans.  Each of these camps has involved more than three dozen active duty and veteran military personnel, and their success is attested to by the participants as well as various media outlets including USA Today and the New York Times, which have published major features on them.

Despite the success of this and similar programs directed at wounded and disabled active duty and veteran military personnel, we recognize that there is much more that we can and should do.   I want to emphasize that we are and will continue to engage in these activities because injured military personnel are the soul of the Paralympic movement.  And when I speak of the Paralympic movement, I am not talking about an exclusive number of persons that will make future Paralympic teams, I am speaking of a movement and individuals with physical disabilities that are educated, employed, active in their communities, promote excellence, ability and inspire Americans to achieve and overcome obstacles.    However, it is likely that by 2008, there will be one or more former service members that will qualify to represent their country again at the Paralympic Games.  And that will be a great achievement and story for America, and the American people.

As successful as the Paralympic Military Sports Camps have been we have only scratched the surface and want to do more. Currently there is a significant lack of Paralympic Community-based programs throughout the United States.  We have been most fortunate in developing a very positive and productive working relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs with which we concluded a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2005.  Since then we have collaborated on certain activities but have been limited financially and programmatically.  We believe that this legislative proposal to establish an Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, accompanied by supportive funding, would serve as a vehicle for the VA and USOC jointly to serve a larger universe of veterans for whom Paralympic sport would serve as a valuable rehabilitation activity to reintegrate into communities with family members and friends.  We would envision an expansion of Paralympic Community-Based programs to target a larger number of veterans and their families, and create similar programs at community facilities of some of our Paralympic partners such as the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, and in the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado, the home of Fort Carson, where a Paralympic Community-based programs does not exist currently.  These programs would be community extensions at various VA facilities that are identified in collaboration with our partners at the Veterans Administration.

This legislation, and the interest of this subcommittee that is giving this proposal a hearing, is testimony to the need of veterans for activities and programs that enable them to return to a full and active life.  The United States Olympic Committee, through its Paralympic Division, wants to be an active participant in serving a most deserving segment of our population.  We have learned that these various Paralympic sport programs, whether they be the USOC’s, the Department of Veterans Affairs’, or those of Disabled Sport USA which is ably led by Kirk Bauer, make a positive difference in the lives of those who are being served.  We are confident that the expertise that we have developed in Paralympic sport can be a valuable component in an effort in which there are many different parts, and believe that the proposal contained in this legislation will better enable us to be of meaningful service.