WASHINGTON - Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) signed a memorandum of understanding to provide Paralympic sport programming and additional community support, including funding and resources, to injured servicemen and servicewomen across the country.
"Americans have a covenant to care for those who have served our nation with honor," said Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. "VA is proud to fulfill that covenant through this partnership with U.S. Paralympics, which gives injured Veterans an opportunity to rediscover their potential and redefine their capabilities. Too often, the world sees only their limitations - we know their potential. Disabled Veterans show us how to live life. Life for them is not just about winning or losing at sports events. It's about the joy that comes from triumphing over adversity, and their triumph is the fight each and every day."
Under the terms of the agreement signed today, the U.S. Olympic Committee and its Paralympic Division, along with USOC member organizations, including Veteran and military organizations, will expand rehabilitative support at the community level in collaboration with the VA, to injured Veterans. Support includes training, equipment, access to Paralympic mentors and ongoing sports programming in communities across the country.
"Research shows that sports and physical activity provide incredible healing power and contribute significantly to successful rehabilitation and re-engagement in life for people and soldiers who become physically disabled," said Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics, USOC. "A significant need is ensuring access to programs for injured Veterans at the community level. By collaborating with VA, we can ensure that Olympic and Paralympic community-based and Veteran sport organizations connect injured service members to local programs immediately, and resources are provided to those programs to meet the need through VA funded USOC grants."
The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 authorizes VA to award $8 million in annual grant support to the U.S. Paralympics to plan, develop, manage, and implement an integrated adaptive sports program for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.
Calling the partnership an important step in ensuring that the USOC Paralympic Military Program is capable of supporting veteran athletes, Chairman Filner said, "For many service members and veterans who have been severely-injured, their rehabilitation can be a disheartening experience. The partnership between USOC and VA will provide injured service members and veterans more opportunities to heal and grow, while in an environment of athletic competition and sport. For so many wounded warriors, this program provides a valuable chance to explore new limits, dream new dreams, and continue their active lifestyle."
In addition, $2 million in direct Veteran support will be provided for injured servicemen and women who are seeking competitive sport opportunities.
"When I had the pleasure of visiting the U.S. Olympic Committee training site in Chula Vista, California, I saw first-hand how sports strengthen these heroes physically, mentally and emotionally," said Congressman Buyer. "These qualities of the heart and mind translated into other areas of life often lead to great success and accomplishments, and I am excited about this milestone in Veterans' rehabilitation."
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., U.S. Paralympics is a division of the USOC and was formed in May 2001 with the goal of enhancing programs, obtaining funding and providing competitive opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities to participate in Paralympic sports.