VA, Olympic Agreement Benefits Disabled Veteran Athletes
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2005 Athletes participating in the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Wheelchair Games and National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic are now eligible to qualify for U.S. Paralympic teams thanks to an agreement signed today by representatives of the VA and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Jim Scherr (left), chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Gordon H. Mansfield, deputy secretary of veterans affairs, sign an agreement that makes disabled veteran athletes who participate in Veterans Affairs sports programs eligible to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Team. Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, looks on. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It is my honor as a representative of the U.S. Olympic Committee to be here today to memorialize the shared commitment of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Department of Veterans Affairs toward disabled veterans and the Paralympic program," Jim Scherr, chief executive officer of the Olympic Committee, said.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield joined Scherr in signing the memorandum of understanding. Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, was on hand for the event as well.
Partnerships like this one enable the VA to extend its reach and better serve veterans, Mansfield said.
"What this partnership does is provide more options and more opportunities," he said. "Surely its part of our job here at the VA to make sure that we give our veterans, each and every one of them, all these men and women that we're responsible for, every option and every opportunity that's possible."
Lisa Bard, a disabled veteran athlete from Germantown, Md., is a testament to the why this partnership is vital. Disabled in a 1988 training accident at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Bard rediscovered her ability to compete in sports she's always loved and some she didn't know she had an affinity for through the VA's Wheelchair Games and the Winter Sports Clinic, sponsored by the VA and the Disabled American Veterans.
Knowing little more than the basics of basketball, she played on the veterans exhibition team with nine men. She now coaches wheelchair basketball for Blaze Sports in Washington and has played point guard for four years on an all-men's team.
"At the veterans games ... we get opportunities, and all veterans get opportunities, to participate in so many different sports," Bard said. "I think for a lot of people, both newly injured vets and those of us who have been around for awhile and didn't know what we could get back into, it opens up such a world for us.
"It's all about what you can do. It's focusing on the ability, not the disability," she said. "There really is no limit."
Veterans sports programs provide many first time opportunities for disabled vets, and that provides a boost to rehabilitation, both mentally and physically, Bard said. She said she expects that this new partnership will help bring veterans to a higher level of competition.
Scherr said the program is exceptional and provides a direct link to the Olympic Committee, the Olympic training centers and the Paralympic Games.
"It's a unique opportunity. ... To represent your country in Olympic or Paralympic games is probably the highest honor you could have," Scherr said. "We feel at the Olympic Committee that it's really second to the honor that the veterans have in representing our country as members of the military. This is another avenue for an individual to have that honor and represent our country in another venue."
Formed in May 2001, U.S. Paralympics is a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Its goal is to enhance programs and provide opportunities for disabled athletes to participate in sports on an Olympic level.