It's vitally important that communities have plans in place to help returning veterans re-integrate into civilian life. The unique strain of serving in the armed forces means these individuals sometimes have a circuitous route back to a happy and healthy everyday life. Fortunately, many cities and states have implemented helpful programs that aid veterans and family members in several ways. They can serve as examples of how to assist military personnel in times of need.
Several efforts involved in military outreach take the form of sports events or leagues. The communal spirit and pulling together associated with games can serve as a bridge between the sometimes-isolated world of returning veterans and the communities they have come home to.
Hockey league opens doors to veterans
A recent report from The Oakland Press highlighted a hockey program that caters directly to veterans with a current or pending disability rating, as well as those who earned Purple Hearts while serving. The news provider explained that there is no need to be an expert in the sport – any individual fitting the above criteria can participate, from the most to least experienced in hockey. The Michigan Warriors Hockey Program creates a space for hurt veterans to communicate and engage with one another in a recreational setting, hopefully helping them rejoin civilian life.
Wheelchair lacrosse proves life-saving
Fox6, a local news station in Wisconsin, reported on another league designed to help those with disabilities. Playing wheelchair lacrosse has proved to be an important and positive outlet for veterans who have suffered traumatic wounds. The psychological strain that can come with such an injury is a real risk, and playing a sport designed for those with a physical disability has the potential to restore hope and optimism.
"Many have gone down to the wrong pathway where there's drug abuses, violence. As soon as we bring them into adaptive sports and give them an ultimatum, 'We will kick you out if you go back to that life' – almost 100 percent of them turned around," Dr. Kenneth Lee, wheelchair lacrosse team founder and an Iraq veteran, told Fox6.
The news provider noted that the wheelchair lacrosse league is made up of veterans and civilians alike, brought together by the desire to enjoy a game with the attendant camaraderie and teamwork.
Games reach 36th year
Sports have long been harnessed as a way to help injured veterans engage with life after service. In fact, as Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe pointed out,the National Veterans Wheelchair Games are in their 36th year. The event is an ambitious blend of sports and games, and this is the first year that it will include bobsledding – though just as an exhibition this time around.
This year's event has drawn more than 625 athletes who have served in the U.S. military, showing that there are many people eligible for such competitions. As more of these events pop up around the nation, individuals with pressing needs can find exciting new opportunities through sports and games. There is more than one way to help a veteran re-integrate into civilian life, and plenty of examples have appeared lately.