“Please share your most successful strategies for therapeutic recreation programs for returning veterans. What approaches have worked the best and why?”
We have found the most successful Veteran Programming for us has come after offering several interactive trainings with the V.A. therapists and doctors to educate them about our continuous programming. We have then followed up these educational programs with discounted programming offers for group therapy at the golf course, rock climbing wall, ice sheets, and pools. Several veterans with permanent disabilities are now very active in our continuous adaptive sports and recreation programming outside of their therapeutic groups. Our best advice is to focus on long-term programming, not just one-time events that don’t match everyday programming.
Jeffrey M. Burley MS,
Adaptive Program Manager
Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation
Salt Lake City, Utah
We have seen substantial positive reinforcement to the outcomes of our Army program, called Warrior Adventure Quest, in reference to post-deployment recreational therapy contributions. WAQ is an Armed Forces Generation (ARFORGEN) deployment cycle, reset training tool designed to reinforce unit cohesion and influence reductions of accidents and behavioral incidences for redeployed soldiers adjusting from the high-paced, high-adrenaline combat environment to garrison or home life.
WAQ combines existing Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), recreational Army programs, high-adventure outdoor recreation activities (e.g., rock climbing, mountain biking, paintball, scuba, ropes courses, skiing, and others) with an after-action debriefing/communication tool. Currently, WAQ is conducted in platoon-level groups (25-30 people) within the first 120 days after return to home station. As of September 2012, 40 garrisons conduct WAQ activity programs. The program has so far served approximately 4,842 platoons or 121,055 soldiers.
A series of measurements are in place to test the effectiveness of the program. So far, survey results from soldiers who have participated in the WAQ program show a positive association between WAQ participation and risk reduction: 35 percent fewer accidents and 13 percent fewer behavioral incidents for WAQ participants versus Army norms. This tool demonstrates that high-adventure recreation can be a coping outlet to help soldiers realize their own new level of normal and move on with their lives.
Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) helps our injured military members and veterans cope with acclimating themselves to their new lives with visible and unseen injuries. This is a one-of-a-kind nonprofit organization that focuses on physical and psychological rehabilitation through its Project HERO (Healing Exercise Rehab Opportunity) cycling programs at Warrior Transition Units, Wounded Warrior BN Units, and military hospitals. By maintaining the integrity of cycling as rehabilitation throughout the week on a regular schedule, R2R pushes injured service members and veterans to test personal limits while riding with other service members who have faced similar issues.
Cycling has proven to be a catalyst in the recovery process by providing a new physical challenge while concurrently helping to cope with the mental challenges. Riding alongside others with similar experiences helps our healing heroes feel comfortable talking about what happened to them as they also set goals and find ways to cope with their “new normal.” R2R enables people to ride no matter their disabilities, often custom building or modifying road bikes, hand cycles, recumbents, and tandems to fit individual needs. Each hand cycle and recumbent has an R2R “push bar” which enables fellow riders to assist as needed on hills or in tough conditions. Pushing a fellow rider up a hill while struggling themselves builds an enduring bond.
Through cycling, R2R provides service members with an alternative form of exercise that they can continue with family members or friends outside of the organized R2R Challenges. Exercise that was so critical to the daily lives of our military can once again be a continuing part of their lives.
During the course of a week-long Challenge, many first-timers accomplish personal goals—from finishing miles to reconnecting with others who have had similar injuries and issues. The camaraderie of the group is often mentioned as a highlight of helping to find new ways to cope.
R2R staff, volunteers, and cadre ride with active-duty service members and veterans, pushing them to meet their goals, transporting luggage for riders, arranging meals and hotels—all to allow cyclists to focus on their recovery. Family members are encouraged to ride or volunteer on the support team, so they can participate in and witness the experience with their loved ones.
R2R has garnered the support of DoD leadership as well as all four branches of our military. Sponsors such as UnitedHealthcare, the USO, United Airlines, Chevrolet, Raleigh, BAE Systems, Macy’s, U-Haul, and Deloitte assure that there is no cost to the service members who are cycling. Hotels, food, luggage transportation, bikes, and equipment are provided.
Since 2008, R2R has held 25 long-distance (330-500 miles) Challenges for more than 3,000 riders. For more information on how to participate or about the organization, visit www.ride2recovery.com.
Barbara Springer Ph.D.
National Director, Project HERO
Our community at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is involved with offering Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS). This program is led by our local dive club. If you talk to SUDS veterans who have been here before, they’ll agree GTMO is really the crown jewel of the SUDS diving experience. SUDS members attended two days of open-water training to receive dive certifications before participating in unassisted dives in Guantanamo Bay’s numerous “dive spot” locations. This weekend-long event allows our community to give back to those who sacrifice for us. It also shows disabled veterans that there are opportunities that can be enjoyed after an injury, and the experience is extremely therapeutic for all involved. Being a volunteer is very rewarding as well. It is a great example of how being a part of something bigger than yourself can be very worthwhile and fulfilling.
Military OneSource (MOS) is a Department of Defense program providing resources, services, and educational materials all at no cost, including shipping and handling. Not only do they support service members in their everyday life and all phases of deployment, but their spouses and children are also eligible. Some of the services and educational materials we provide are counseling (mental health and financial); spousal career and education, including a job board; parenting; elder care; relationships; deployments; stress; and many more. MOS also provides health coaching with a personal coach to help reduce stress and promote healthy eating, exercise, weight loss, etc., plus an online library.
There are many other topics we provide. As a service provider, you are all eligible for some of our services and resources that you may use in order to assist our military and their families. I am sure you will find Military OneSource a great complement to your services. There is a Joint Family Support Assistant Program (JFSAP) Consultant in each state working with all branches of the military and their families.
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