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Disabled veterans made up nearly 1/4 of U.S. Paralympics team

After the Olympics end, a different, equally intense Olympics begins. The Paralympics bring together disabled athletes from around the world. Veterans who received life-changing injuries make a strong presence on the U.S. team.

In fact nearly 1/4 of the U.S. team is a disabled member of the military, an article in the New York Times recently reported. Their presence is due to massive rehabilitation efforts for people who were injured in far-flung wars and efforts by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to recruit veterans. Receiving serious injuries in a war can result in applications and appeals for Social Security Disability benefits and VA benefits and a lifetime of rehabilitation and recovery – but veterans with disabilities can live full lives.

Some of the veterans were seriously injured on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others were injured in training exercises or other military accidents, and some were injured after returning from service. Three athletes on the U.S. team received permanent injures in motorcycle accidents after returning from war.

One athlete lost his legs while serving as a platoon commander for SEAL Team One in Afghanistan. He reached the six-man finals for the 1-kilometer sit-ski sprint at the games.  The U.S. sledge hockey team, with four veterans as members, took gold.

The USOC says it recruited the athletes by building on its approach of expanding and creating more opportunities for disabled athletes at the community level. The Department of Defense and the VA have partnered with the committee. The efforts to bring military athletes to the Paralympics have created interest from other delegations that want to better integrate military veterans into the Paralympics.

Source: New York Times, "Paralympics, at Peace as Wars Wind Down," Ben Shpigel, March 15, 2014

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