The Transformative Power of Adaptive Sports Programs

Race using adaptive cycles

For many years, people with disabilities have been using sports as a therapeutic tool. It helps them overcome serious injury or illness and is a means of recovery. They fight their personal battles on the track, in the pool and on the court. Their drive to overcome, recover and push through obstacles sends a powerful message: Serious injury or illness does not interrupt the pursuit of a meaningful and productive life.

Recognizing this, the Department of Defense and the United States Olympic Committee, created the Warrior Games. This inter-service adaptive sports competition showcases the resilient spirit of today’s wounded, ill and injured service members. Athletes from all branches of the military compete against each other in a range of adaptive sporting events. Having overcome severe injuries and medical conditions, the service members embody the warrior spirit. They serve as role models for other survivors worldwide.

The United Kingdom’s Prince Harry founded the Invictus Games after attending the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado. He saw the impact that sports played in the recovery of service members and was inspired to launch a similar event. He designed the Invictus Games for wounded, ill and injured military members and veterans from around the world. It also uses sports to promote healing and support recovery.

Warrior Games, Invictus Games: Sports as medicine

Many athletes say that participating in adaptive sports:

  • Boosts their self-esteem
  • Improves their mental and physical health
  • Increases their strength
  • Makes them more resilient

Recently, scientists began to purposefully measure the effects of adaptive sports programs. They want to determine adaptive sports programs role in rehabilitation.

See these resilient competitors in action! Check out featured videos, stories, photo essays and more:

Learn more about how the Military Adaptive Sports Program aids with healing our wounded warriors.

A holistic approach to recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration

Adaptive sports and other reconditioning activities help service members come to terms with traumatic injuries or illness by inspiring them to realize what is still achievable by focusing on ability.

Adaptive sports promotes holistic growth and achievement by addressing several factors, including:

  • Being part of a team promotes a sense of belonging and peer support, of knowing you’re not alone in your struggle.
  • The opportunity to renew the power of service to country and strong desire to pursue a higher purpose that have always inspired service members in combat and life.
  • Competition rekindles the sense of passion and determination of the warrior spirit that is part of a service member’s DNA, the courage to move forward despite barriers and obstacles.
  • The chance to be celebrated and recognized, supported by family, friends and people from around the world, boosts self-worth and self-efficacy.

Adaptive sports engages service members and veterans mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically and socially. It helps them find hope and strength through their common experiences.

According to the Defense Health Agency’s Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program, the benefits of physical activity for ill and injured service members also include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased quality of life
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved weight management
  • Enhanced rehabilitative process

Finding an adaptive sports program

The Defense Health Agency’s Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program oversees the Military Adaptive Sports Program. MASP provides reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill and injured service members. The program empowers wounded, ill and injured service members through physical and mental activities that engage, stimulate and inspire recovery. Offerings include:

  • A weekly calendar with suggestions for activities service members can do by themselves or with their families to improve their skills and stay connected
  • Virtual clinics in swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair rugby, track and field, healthy mind and body, powerlifting and cooking
  • Access to healing arts initiatives

Each service branch also offers their own wounded warrior program:

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events cosponsors adaptive sports clinics and competitive events for disabled veterans of all ages and abilities. This includes the Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs, which provides grant funding to organizations to increase and expand the quantity and quality of community-based adaptive sports activities for veterans with disabilities and members of the armed forces. To find out more, visit the VA National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events website.

How to Talk to a Child About a Parent’s Severe Injury

Child hugging service member

Telling your child about a parent’s severe injury is a delicate issue that often requires some preparation and guidance. How you talk with your child about a parent’s injury will depend on the child’s age and ability to understand the injury, your own emotional state and the emotional and mental state of the injured parent. This conversation is a necessary first step toward helping your child cope with the adjustment, so it’s best to give it some thought. You might want to consider the following strategies.

When to tell your child

These tips can help you decide the right time to discuss the injury with your child:

  • Tell your child as soon as possible. Children can often sense when something is wrong and they may become frightened if they aren’t told what is going on.
  • Wait until you can speak about the injury calmly. Your child may become scared or anxious if they see you become distraught.
  • Be sure to give your child your full attention. Sit down to talk when you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Also, give your child time to ask questions.
  • Choose a time when neither of you have to be anywhere, like school or work. Even if your child doesn’t want to talk after learning the news, he or she will be comforted knowing that you are available.

What to say

How much you reveal about the parent’s injury will depend on your child’s age:

  • Be open and honest, and use language that your child can understand. Follow your child’s cues as you discuss the injury. Some children will want to know everything, while others will feel overwhelmed if you give them too much information.
  • Keep your explanations simple and brief for young children. Toddlers and preschoolers have short attention spans for complex topics.
  • Tell your child what is being done for the parent. Reassure your child by discussing all the ways that people are caring for the injured parent.
  • Talk about how things will change, but focus on what will stay the same. Most children will worry about how the injury will affect their own lives. If the parent will need a wheelchair to get around, explain that the injury will change how the parent gets around, but he or she will still be able to play some games. Also, remind your child that you, the injured parent, other family members and friends will still be around to help care for and keep him or her safe.
  • Arrange for phone calls with the injured parent, if possible. Hearing the parent’s voice can reassure your child. It can also help your child understand how long it will be before he or she will get to see the parent again.

How your child may react

Consider seeking counseling for your child if these common signs of stress don’t go away on their own after a few weeks:

  • Toddlers and preschoolers may become clingy and fear separation. Some kids return to old habits and behaviors, like bed-wetting or thumb sucking. Younger children may express new fears or have nightmares.
  • School-age children may have problems in school. They may have a hard time paying attention, or they may experience physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. They may even become aggressive or afraid that something bad will happen to other loved ones.
  • Teenagers may also have problems with school or have difficulty paying attention. Some teenagers may exhibit risk-taking behavior. Others may become depressed and withdraw from family and friends.

What you can do to help

  • Tell your child that it’s normal to feel angry or sad about what happened. Let your child know that you feel sad or angry, too.
  • Draw your child out gently if your child seems withdrawn. You can encourage your child to express his or her feelings through drawing, playing or writing. But don’t force your child to talk about feelings.
  • Maintain routines. If your child is staying with a friend or adult while you are helping your injured service member, write down your child’s routines and ask the caregiver to follow them.
  • Answer your child’s questions with honesty and openness. When your child wants to talk, stop what you are doing and give your child your full attention. Provide lots of cuddling and comfort.
  • Offer to stay in your child’s room if your child has nightmares or fears. Let your child know that you are there for him or her.
  • Encourage your child to email, write letters to and telephone the injured parent. Provide opportunities for your child to maintain a connection with the injured parent. This will allow your child to ask the parent questions. It will also help the injured parent remain involved in your child’s life.
  • Schedule an appoint with a child and youth military and family life counselor or call Military OneSource for confidential non-medical counseling. Call 800-342-9647. OCONUS/international? View calling options.
  • Get support for yourself. Check out the resources and assistance available for military caregivers.

Resources for families of an injured service member

The following resources can help your child adjust to life with a parent who has had a severe injury:

Sesame Street for Military Families offers games, videos and more to help children and their families embrace family togetherness and face what lies ahead.

Parenting for Veterans has tips and strategies to help parents with physical or mental injuries and their families adjust to a new normal.

Honoring Our Babies and Toddlers: Supporting Young Children Affected by a Military Parent’s Injury Guide, a free, orderable resource from Military OneSource, explores the issues of stress, trauma, grief and loss as it relates to reunion with an injured parent.

Time to Connect with Family Around Injuries, Illness and Recovery, a webinar offered through FOCUS, looks at the impact of a service member’s injury or illness on their family. The webinar offers strategies for talking with children about their parent’s injury and describes the TeleFOCUS program, which offers resilience training by video for military families.

You will most likely have to return to the conversation about a parent’s severe injury from time to time. Circumstances will change and questions will arise during different phases of treatment and beyond. By keeping following these strategies and keeping the conversation open, your child will feel like part of the process and will be better able to cope with the changes.

Whatever situation you’re facing, let Military OneSource help you connect to the support you need. Call 800-342-9647 or schedule a live chat OCONUS/international? View calling options.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Service member tying boots

People who live through a traumatic event sometimes suffer its effects long after the real danger has passed. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. While PTSD is often associated with combat veterans, any survivor of a natural disaster, physical abuse or other traumatic event may suffer from it. The good news is that with professional help, PTSD is treatable. But the first steps in getting help are learning the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms and understanding the treatment options.

Knowing the risk factors

Several factors play a role in developing PTSD, such as individual personality, severity of the event, proximity to the event, the people involved in the event, duration of the trauma and the amount of support the person receives afterward. You may be at higher risk if you:

  • Were directly involved in the traumatic event
  • Were injured or had a near-death experience
  • Survived an especially long-lasting or severe traumatic event
  • Truly believed your life or that of someone around you was in danger
  • Had a strong emotional or physical reaction during the event
  • Received little or no support following the event
  • Have multiple other sources of stress in your life

Recognizing the symptoms

Just as individual reactions to trauma vary, PTSD symptoms also differ from person to person. Symptoms may appear immediately after a traumatic event or they may appear weeks, months or even years later. Although the symptoms of a “typical” stress reaction can resemble those of PTSD, true PTSD symptoms continue for a prolonged time period and often interfere with a person’s daily routines and commitments. While only a trained medical professional can diagnose PTSD, possible signs of the disorder include:

  • Re-experiencing trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder frequently includes flashbacks, or moments in which the person relives the initial traumatic event or re-experiences the intense feelings of fear that surrounded it.
  • Avoidance/numbness. As a result of flashbacks or other negative feelings, people suffering from PTSD may avoid conversations or situations that remind them of the frightening event they survived.
  • Hyper arousal. Feeling constantly on edge, feeling irritable and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating are all possible signs of PTSD.

Children can also suffer from PTSD. In children, PTSD symptoms may differ from those seen in adults and may include trouble sleeping, acting out or regression in toilet training, speech or behavior. Parents of children with PTSD may notice that the children’s artwork or pretend play involves dark or violent themes or details.

Understanding the treatment options

Even suspecting you have PTSD is reason enough to get a professional opinion, especially when free help is available around the clock to service members and their families. If you’re not sure whom to talk to, start with any of the following:

  • Military treatment facility or covered services. You can locate the nearest military treatment facility and covered services in the civilian community near you through the TRICARE website.
  • Your healthcare provider. If you receive health care in the community through a civilian provider, you can start by talking to your doctor.
  • Local Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. If you are eligible to receive care through a VA hospital or clinic, find the nearest facility through the Veterans Health Administration website.
  • Military Crisis Line. If you or anyone you know ever experiences thoughts of suicide, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. The Military Crisis Line staff can connect you with mental health support and crisis counseling services for a wide range of issues.

Remember, you are not alone. Free help is available 24/7 to service members and their families. Seeking help is a sign of strength that helps to protect your loved ones, your career, and your mental and physical health.

Note: Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance abuse, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.

Wounded Warrior Programs

two disabled veterans talking

The military provides specialized wounded warrior programs designed to help severely ill and injured service members transition back to duty or civilian life. Each service branch has its own program. While the programs do not focus on medical issues, they do help service members and their medical teams develop a comprehensive recovery plan that addresses specific rehabilitation and recovery goals.

Wounded warrior program eligibility

Wounded warrior programs are not solely exclusive to service members with combat injuries. They also assist:

  • Service members who are battling serious illnesses
  • Service members who have been injured in accidents and require long term care

Types of support wounded warrior programs provide

Wounded warrior programs provide non-medical support that is tailored to fit the service member’s needs. This support spans from something as simple as helping service members understand their benefits to assisting them with their specialized transportation needs. The program provides services that address:

  • Pay and personnel issues
  • Invitational travel orders
  • Lodging and housing adaptations
  • Child and youth care arrangements
  • Transportation needs
  • Legal and guardianship issues
  • Education and training benefits
  • Respite care
  • Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress support services

How to enroll in the wounded warrior program

Enrollment into the wounded warrior program varies per branch. Some service branches allow wounded warriors to self-refer into the program. Other service branches require that a medical officer make a program enrollment request on behalf of the service member. Here is a contact list for the various wounded warrior programs:

  • Army: In order to be considered eligible for entry into the Warrior Care and Transition Program, soldiers must meet the entry criteria for their component. For more information and assistance, contact the Army Wounded Warrior Call Center at 877-393-9058, DSN 312-221-9113.
  • Marine Corps: The parent command, medical officer, medical case manager or Wounded Warrior Regiment detachment officer-in-charge must initiate the request on behalf of the service member. For more information on the referral process, contact the Wounded Warrior Regiment call center at 877-487-6299.
  • Navy Wounded Warrior: Sailors and Coast Guardsmen may self-refer to the program or be referred by a family member, their command leadership, or their medical team. For questions on enrollment eligibility, contact the Navy Wounded Warrior call center at 855-NAVY-WWP or 855-628-9997, or use the contact links provided on the website.
  • Air Force: Anyone can refer an airman into the Air Force Wounded Warrior program. Contact the AFW2 program office at 800-581-9437 or use the direct email links provided on the website.
  • Special Operations Command Warrior Care Program: USSOCOM WCP was established in 2005 to provide support to special operations forces wounded, ill, or injured service members and their families after life changing events to help them navigate through recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration. For more information, call 877-672-3039 or 813-826-8888.

For additional information and resources including free specialty consultation services, visit the Military OneSource Wounded Warrior webpage. You can also contact a Military OneSource consultant 24/7/365, by calling 800-342-9647, using OCONUS dialing options, or scheduling a live chat.

Understanding and Dealing With Combat Stress and PTSD

Service member relaxing

Combat stress, also known as battle fatigue, is a common response to the mental and emotional strain that can result from dangerous and traumatic experiences. It is a natural reaction to the wear and tear of the body and mind after extended and demanding operations.

Recognizing combat stress and stress symptoms

It can be difficult to detect combat stress because the symptoms include a range of physical, behavioral and emotional signs. However, there are some key symptoms, which include:

  • Irritability and anger outbursts
  • Excessive fear and worry
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Depression and apathy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Changes in behavior or personality

How to deal with combat stress

It is important not to blame yourself or a family member for experiencing combat stress. It has nothing to do with weakness or a character flaw. Like an overused muscle, the brain simply needs to heal from too much exposure to trauma and stress. Here are a few steps you can take to recover:

  • Attend to your health. Stress can be an important signal that we are overextending our bodies. It is important to stop and attend to the body’s needs by eating right, exercising and getting adequate rest.
  • Rest. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Sleep restores the body and can protect you from the negative consequences of too much stress.
  • Reach out for help. Working with a counselor can be very helpful in identifying some thoughts and behaviors that might be worsening your stress. A trained expert can also share some strategies that will promote positive health. Military OneSource confidential non-medical counseling provides service members and their loved ones with resources and support to address a variety of issues and build important skills to tackle life’s challenges. Consultants are available 24/7/365. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat.

    If you feel as though you are in crisis, or know anyone who is in crisis, please call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and press 1.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. You can decrease stress and build resilience by learning how to relax and pay attention to positive things. Do things during the day that you enjoy – listen to music, take a walk, remind yourself of things you are grateful for, and use your sense of humor. Simple breathing exercises can also release stress by relaxing the central nervous system. Check out these Department of Defense recommended wellness apps, and resilience tools. These mobile applications are free and for iOS and/or Android devices.

Combat stress or PTSD?

Combat stress is often confused with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault or disaster. While many of the symptoms are similar between the two conditions, they are different.

Combat stress usually happens for brief periods of time and is considered a natural reaction to the traumatic events that service members experience. Symptoms often disappear after a service member is home for a few months, or even weeks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, on the other hand, is more severe. It can often interfere with a person’s daily responsibilities and demands a more aggressive treatment. PTSD usually requires sessions with a mental health professional and methods to process difficult emotions.

A person diagnosed with PTSD often experiences specific symptoms – such as recurrent dreams or flashbacks – following a traumatic event as part of the combat experience.

In summary, PTSD tends to be more severe and usually requires working with a mental health professional. Combat stress is a more common reaction to demanding and traumatic experiences. Service members can usually recover and resume their everyday lives by following some simple strategies and taking time to heal.

Understanding the Americans With Disabilities Act

Soldier in wheel chair holding a tablet

The Americans with Disabilities Act has been protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities for more than 30 years, making sure they have the same opportunities as everyone else to be part of everyday American life. The ADA ensures that people with disabilities can enjoy job opportunities, buy goods and services and take part in state and local government programs and services.

People protected under the ADA are living with a physical or mental impairment that greatly limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, speaking, lifting, hearing, seeing, reading, sleeping, eating, concentrating or working. The ADA covers injured service members with a military disability, such as traumatic brain injury, spinal injury, loss of a limb, vision or hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Employment

The ADA makes it illegal to refuse to hire qualified people based on disability. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, such as:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • A parking space close to an entrance
  • Allowing service animals in the workplace
  • Providing special equipment

Access to goods and services

Per the ADA, businesses that offer goods and services to the public must make adjustments to how they do business so that people with disabilities can be their customers. Businesses covered by the ADA include:

  • Grocery stores
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Medical offices
  • Gyms
  • Sports arenas and concert halls

All buildings built since the ADA went into effect must provide easy-to-use access to people who have movement or sensory disabilities. Changes businesses might make include:

  • Reading a menu to someone with impaired vision
  • Providing a large-print copy of a rental contract
  • Installing a ramp
  • Providing accessible parking spaces
  • Lowering a paper-towel dispenser

Access to public services

State and local governments must also follow ADA rules and make changes to activities and services. Public services include:

  • Public trade schools
  • Community colleges
  • Libraries
  • Public hospitals
  • Parks
  • Public transportation

All programs must be available to people with disabilities but not all buildings have to be accessible. Governments can choose whether to:

  • Correct access problems at an inaccessible building
  • Move a program to an accessible building
  • Find another way to allow disabled persons to participate.

Some resources for service members with disabilities include:

Learn more by reading the booklet The ADA: Know Your Rights — Returning Service Members with Disabilities. This booklet provides information about employment accommodations, business access modifications, civic life and more. It also includes links to other helpful publications and agencies.

Disability Directive-Type Memorandum and Policy Updates

American Flag

The following memorandum and policy updates offer guidance for service providers when working with members of the military facing service-related disabilities.

Policy Guidance for the Disability Evaluation System and Establishment of Recurring Directive-Type Memoranda, May 3, 2007
This directive-type memorandum establishes updated Department of Defense (DOD) guidance for the overall management of the Disability Evaluation System and issues policy. It supplements 000 Directive 1332.18, “Separation or Retirement for Physical Disability,” November 4, 1996.

Standards for Determining Unfitness Due to Medical Impairment (Deployability), December 19, 2007 This DTM provides supplemental and clarifying guidance on standards for determining unfitness due to medical impairment within the Disability Evaluation System (DES). The change promulgated by this memorandum is the revision of guidance pertaining to the use of “deployability” for medical separations.

Implementing Disability-Related Provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, March 13, 2008 This DTM provides supplemental and clarifying guidance on implementing those disability-related provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 (Pub L. 110-181) which are time-sensitive and impact immediate decisions pertaining to the rating of conditions and the calculation of separation severance pay.

Implementing Disability-Related Provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, October 14, 2008 This policy memorandum provides supplemental and clarifying guidance on implementing those disability-related provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (Pub 1. 11 0-181), which are time-sensitive and impact immediate decisions pertaining to the rating of conditions and the operations of medical and physical evaluation boards.

Policy and Procedural Update for the Disability Evaluation System (DES) Pilot Program, December 11, 2008 This policy memorandum establishes the scope, policy, responsibilities, and implementing instructions for the Disability Evaluation System (DES) Pilot. The DES Pilot will test an enhanced process designed to deliver faster, more consistent disability evaluations and compensation to wounded, ill and injured Service members and veterans. The attached guidance applies only to the DES Pilot.

Expedited DES Process for Members with Catastrophic Conditions and Combat-Related Causes, January 6, 2009 This memorandum establishes policy that allows the Secretary concerned to expedite a member through the Disability Evaluation System (DES). The expedited DES process is a special benefit to those Service members who sustain catastrophic injuries or illnesses from combat or combat-related operations as defined in this policy. The establishment of this policy supports the Department’s belief that there must be a special process for those members who sustain catastrophic disabilities while participating in combat or combat-related operations, in contrast with those disabled otherwise. It is a voluntary program.

VA-DOD MOA: Expansion of the DOD/VA Integrated Pilot Disability Evaluation System (IPDES) Providing a Single Evaluation/Transition Medical Examination and Single Source Disability Rating, January 16, 2009 This Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) supersedes a previous MOA, dated November 6, 2007, “Implementation of a Single Disability Evaluation of Transition Medical Examination to be used in the DOD Disability Evaluation System and in VA Disability Compensation and Pension Determinations, in a pilot program in the National Capital Region (NCR).”

Policy on Cross-Service Support, and Service Organization Role at Disability Evaluation System (DES) Pilot Locations, March 29, 2010 This memorandum provides additional guidance to the Military Departments on Service members needing DES processing at a sister-Service location participating in the DES Pilot. It also requires Military Departments to inform Service members that they can seek assistance in the DES process from VA-approved service organizations.

VA-DOD MOA: Processing Payment for Disability Compensation and Pension Examinations in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, June 16, 2010 This Memorandum of Agreement establishes expected roles, procedures, and outcomes for VA and DOD regarding the processing of Compensation and Pension disability examination requests. It also addresses the reimbursement procedures for these examinations.