The U.S. Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) use adaptive sports as part of the healing process for returning injured service members and veterans. Adaptive sports have been made popular by many motivated Wounded Warriors around the globe. Wounded veterans now compete in the highest levels of international competition at the Paralympics or Invictus Games, as well as in DoD- and VA-sanctioned programs.
Wounded Warriors receive much more than a venue to compete in sports. They receive much of what they miss when they leave the military abruptly -- and not of their choosing. The intangible benefits of adaptive sports programs include:
- Being part of something again (bigger than themselves)
- Knowing that they are inspiring others to "never give up"
- A sense of camaraderie and not feeling "different"
- Knowing that others appreciate, support and cheer their efforts and hard work
- Burning off stress and staying physically fit through regular activity
- Feeling like they are on a new mission in life
- And -- most importantly -- having a better quality of life through learning skills and practice
Service members are givers. They're the ultimate team mates, who choose to serve others. Adaptive sports competitions allow them to be a part of a team (unit) again with a common, "redefined" mission.
Training allowances are available for our veteran athletes who compete on Paralympic levels.
The VA National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events Office provides a monthly assistance allowance for disabled veterans, as authorized by 38 U.S.C. 322(d) and Section 703 of the Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 for qualifying athletes training in Paralympic sports.
Through the program, the VA will pay a monthly allowance to a veteran with either a service-connected or non-service-connected disability if the veteran meets the minimum military standards or higher (e.g., emerging, talent pool, national team) in their respective sport at a recognized competition. In addition to making the military standard, an athlete must be nationally or internationally classified by their respective sport federation as eligible for Paralympic competition within six or 12 months of a qualifying performance.
Athletes must have established training and competition plans, and they are responsible for turning in monthly and quarterly reports in order to continue receiving the monthly assistance allowance. The allowance rate for an athlete approved for monetary assistance is the same as the 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) rate, which in FY 2013 ranged from $500 up to $1,100 per month, depending on the number of dependents.
More programs to join or assist as a volunteer
The Valor Games promotes healthy, active lifestyles. World Sport Chicago hosted the first Valor Games in 2011. All regional events are organized in partnership with U.S. Paralympics and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Wheelchair Games are a VA athletic competition held in various regions around the United States for wounded service members and veterans.
Developed by Prince Harry of Wales, the Invictus Games are an international competition for wounded military members from 15 countries. They compete in 10 events. The 2016 Invictus Games were televised on ESPN2 and held in Orlando.
Adaptive sports inspire recovery and support rehabilitation. The amount of respect and growing understanding that the public learns from observing these events is also helpful to the recovering athlete.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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