I've been openly critical of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its massive backlog of disability claims, entrenched bureaucracy, and other problems. The VA has a long, long way to go.
But that doesn't mean I don't recognize that there are many people at VA who are dedicated to veterans, and many programs that help veterans survive and thrive.
One of my favorite such programs, which is going on right now here in my hometown of San Diego, is the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
The clinic, which began Sunday and runs all week, offers veterans with serious physical and psychological wounds a week of cycling, surfing,
sailing, kayaking and more in and around the beaches and bays of beautiful San Diego.
Veterans also have
the opportunity to meet with paralympic hopefuls and train at the U.S.
Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, just south of San Diego.
“The Summer Sports Clinic is proof of VA’s commitment to
rehabilitation to improve quality of life for veterans with
disabilities,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “The
clinic helps our most severely injured veterans gain physical and
Not sure I can agree that this one event is proof of VA's overall commitment to rehabilitation. Not with nearly one million vets still waiting on their disability claims.
But the clinic, which is open to veterans who've been seriously wounded in the last six years, is nonetheless a wonderful way to show our wounded warriors that they can successfully adapt to their new lives after an injury, continue to participate in many of the activities they enjoyed in the past – and even try new things.
Veterans who participate in this clinic suffer from a
variety of injuries ranging from traumatic brain injury to spinal cord
injury or loss of limb. The goal of the is not just to help them
strengthen their bodies but also to help them overcome and improve their psychological health and self-esteem.
In a report from VA's website, a number of veterans and their loved ones talked about their positive experiences at the clinic. U.S. Army veteran Andrew Chavez, for example, was able to get up on his knees on this first attempt at surfing.
“We were on the beach watching,” Steve Chavez, Andrew's brother and caregiver, said on the VA site. “And my brother got up on his knees and just thrust his arms into the air. He fell down after that, but I was so happy for him. I'll never forget it. Thanks to VA and the clinic, my brother wants to do more surfing."
VA’s Adaptive Sports team is covering the event, and you can check out VA's Flickr photo set, which will be updated daily (the above photo is from this site). If you’re on Twitter, follow @VAAdaptiveSport and the #NVSSC hashtag.
To give you an idea of what this clinic is all about, here are more than 200 photos from last year’s event.
This is one program VA does right. My only criticism is that it should be greatly expanded.
For more information contact the event's director, Tristan Heaton, at 858-642-6426.