The Many Benefits of Adaptive Sports Programs for Veterans

It is no secret that IED use has increased the instances of traumatic amputations among military personnel. A 2012 report from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center noted that there were 2,035 lower extremity amputations between 2000 and 2011. The VA has recognized the importance of adaptive sports programs for veterans and has invested significant resources into such programs.

What are Adaptive Sports Programs?

Adaptive sports programs are designed to provide outdoor recreational activities for people with disabilities. Such activities may include fly fishing, basketball, rock climbing, basketball, archery, etc. Statistics show that about 82% of all amputations in the U.S. are due to vascular disease, and most lower limb amputees have an underlying disease that contributes to poor physical fitness and other comorbidities. A review in Sports Medicine from 2011 indicated that sports participation among lower extremity amputees helps individuals rehabilitate from amputation more quickly than those that participate in rehab programs that do not include sports.

Adaptive Sports Programs for Veterans: Sport as Healthcare

Chris Nowak is the National Director of the VA Paralympic Program. He is a former Marine who underwent a below knee amputation and is a Paralympic ice hockey player. “The VA recognizes sport as a form of healthcare and as a critical part of the rehab process,” he said, whose own participation in adaptive sports, which began with a skiing clinic, gave him the confidence to return to sports he played before his injury. Even before they are medically cleared to participate in sports, wounded military personnel are introduced to things very early in the rehab process. This may include playing bingo or cards while lying in bed just to work on fine motor skills. Or they may travel to watch the live events to see the end results of the program. Following every Olympics there is an international Paralympics event at the same venues. While many veterans are not capable of competing on such an extreme level, the VA does sponsor the Valor Games, a three-day sporting event in different regions around the country, which is aimed at bringing adaptive sports close to home.

By and large, military personnel are healthy and much more active prior to injury than most civilian amputees. Nonetheless, these programs are beneficial to improve cardiovascular function, muscle force and body mass index. However, an extremely beneficial byproduct is how veterans may benefit psychologically.

Adaptive Sports Help PTSD Symptoms

PTSD is common among traumatic amputees, with rates ranging from 25% to 77%. Research in the Netherlands has shown that taking part in sports helps those with lower extremity amputations accept their own disability and limitations, increase the number of social contacts, escape daily tension and set aside concerns related to their disability. Since 2000, more than 103,292 U.S. military personnel have been diagnosed with PTSD. In a 2011 study of veterans participating in a weeklong program in Sun Valley, ID, 83% of which were first time participants, results showed higher test scores on mood disturbance, depression and anger, as compared to their baseline scores. Though experts are unclear on why and how, hallmark symptoms of PTSD—heightened stress, re-experiencing negative events and emotional numbing—are decreased with participation.

If you are a disabled veteran who may benefit from adaptive sports programs and you have not already sought out these options, Veterans Help Group encourages you to do so. And, of course, if you need assistance getting the veterans disability compensation you need to help live your best life despite any disabilities, we are here to help!

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