4th of July ...
It is fitting on our nation's birthday that this column be used to honor and celebrate all those — veterans and service members — who have fought, and continue to fight, for our freedoms. And although there is much that has already been done in the past few years to improve support networks for these unsung heroes, we are just now beginning to scratch the surface of providing what they need, and truly deserve.
In addition to the incredible advances in care, treatment and therapy for Wounded Warriors, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have made concerted efforts to increase rehabilitative and therapeutic opportunities for injured service members, and their families, in the areas of sports and recreation, which have shown to be tremendously effective in helping them integrate back into life. Whether it is an all-inclusive playground the whole family can play on together, or an opportunity to compete in sports on a national scale, new support programs and facilities are proving to be highly beneficial in helping these brave warriors to better cope with and overcome these life-changing injuries, and conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Warrior Games is a good example of a new program that is making a huge difference, creating a positive ripple effect through the Warrior community. Held April 30-May 5 in Colorado Springs, Colo., the 3rd annual Warrior Games brought together approximately 220 wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans in the spirit of friendly competition. But, as many will tell you, these games are more about the moments than the medals.
The event, which was created in 2010 as an introduction to Paralympic sports for injured service members and veterans, has become a springboard for many to continue participating in sports programs in their communities. Since the Warrior Games' inception, medical treatment facilities, Warrior Transition Units and Wounded Warrior Battalions East (MCB Camp Lejeune, N.C.) and West (MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif.) have seen a more than 20-percent increase in sports program participation by wounded, ill and injured service members.
And this year's 32nd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, one of the largest in its history, brought approximately 550 veterans together to compete against and form lasting bonds with their peers.
According to National Veterans Wheelchair Games Director Dave Tostenrude, these programs are an immeasurable benefit to our veterans, which is reflected in how many come back each year to participate. “Whether they win a medal or don't win a medal, the events have a lasting effect on veterans, encouraging them to go further than they thought they could, and bringing them together in a fellowship of sorts.”
He points out that these opportunities are vitally important for those “who are dealing with a lot of complex factors, such as how their injuries are going to impact their lives, and trying to adjust to that. These events take the focus off what they can't do, and help redefine their whole perception around what they can do. Where at home they may feel isolated or have limited opportunities, these events support our country's disabled veterans to live healthier and more active lives.”
And let's not forget the families of Wounded Warriors, who sacrifice so much as well, many times without the recognition and support they fully deserve.
Until the recent opening of a new fully accessible playground and Healing Therapy Garden at the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC), in San Antonio, Texas, Wounded Warriors and their families who were staying at the rehabilitation and support center did not have a place to go outside the facility to play, relax or have fun — together.
“In the real world, there are playgrounds everywhere, but there aren't here,” notes WFSC Director Judith Markelz. “But now we have a playground ... Children should be playing and not worrying; it is their right to play. This playground provides a place to go for families, and for a moment in time, it is the way it used to be.”
These programs and facilities — and stories of hope and triumph — provide a glimpse at the immensely beneficial impact that these new and existing support networks provide, and remind us — individually and as a nation — to continue to look for ways to do more to support and celebrate our veterans and service members. They deserve all that we can give, and more.