Good evening and welcome, everyone. This is our 24th annual Winter Sports Clinic, and I’m honored to be here. I want to take a few moments to do two things—say thanks to those who make this Winter Sports Clinic possible, and remind those in attendance why we are here.
Let me acknowledge and thank some folks, who make this great event possible every year. First, my very special thanks to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV)—our longstanding partner for this Winter Sports Clinic. Without good folks like Bobby Barrera, Chad Colley, Dave Gorman, Joe Violante, Mike Walsh, Mark Burgess, Art Wilson, and their many devoted DAV volunteers, this event would simply not happen. The DAV has walked point for our disabled Veterans since 1920—and I am proud to be one of its members.
Let me add to the DAV my thanks to all of our fantastic VA volunteers, including our military members, who have taken time off and donated their services to us. Many thanks for immeasurable assistance in bringing so much joy and opportunity to our participating competitors.
To our corporate and non-profit sponsors, we will be recognizing each of you individually in a few minutes, but warmest welcome and heart-felt thanks for your generous support in making this largest disabled winter sports event in the country possible. Some 400 Veterans and serving military members will descend the slopes of Snowmass this week, becoming heroes, once again. All of this is made possible by your generosity.
Thanks also to the cities of Snowmass and Aspen for once again sharing the wonders of this miracle with us. Thanks for your hospitality in welcoming all of us here, but most especially, for welcoming our disabled Veterans and service members.
To our clinic founder and director, Sandy Trombetta; and our local VA hosts—Glenn Grippen, director of VA’s Rocky Mountain network, Terry Atienza, director of Grand Junction VA Medical Center, and Teresa Parks—the “first sergeant” that keeps this clinic running—thanks for joining us and bringing with you all the incredible medical support that only VA can bring to an undertaking like this one.
I also want to recognize Tom Brown and the rest of our VA National Special Events Team for their year-long effort to promote and coordinate this clinic for Veterans.
Finally, special thanks to Jim Martinson, whom I met a few weeks ago at the Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada. Jim is a legendary Paralympian and entrepreneur, whose rehabilitation began at a clinic like this one. Jim’s a Vietnam Veteran, who still takes on all youngsters in the sprints at the Wheelchair Games—and wins. (Bigger lungs, as he tells me.) He’s been a mentor to many and an inspiration to all. I’m especially grateful to have him here. Jim, welcome back to your roots.
I’ve been Secretary of Veterans Affairs for about 14 months now, and I am been struck by two very different images of men and women who have worn our Nation’s military uniforms. They are with me all the time.
The first image is this: Each year, less than 1percent of Americans volunteer to serve in our Nation’s Armed Forces. After enlisting, they undergo weeks of rigorous physical training and mental preparation for a disciplined life of values, standards, and accountability.
Following graduation from basic training, they join a wide variety of units—platoons, ships, squadrons, and detachments. When they reach their first units, they quickly become valued and trusted members of high-performing teams—maybe the highest performing teams they will ever be a part of in their lives—tough, motivated, extremely dedicated. With excellent leadership, they go forward, each and every day, to perform the complex, the difficult, and the dangerous missions.
Think of what they’ve been asked to do, and what they’ve accomplished, with unwavering commitment and without complaint, these last eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are, simply, outstanding young people who routinely make the impossible possible.
But there is a second image: Veterans suffer disproportionately from homelessness, depression, substance abuse, and suicides, and they are well up there in joblessness, as well. 107,000 of them sleep on the streets of our Nation today. Another 40,000 Veterans are released from prison each year.
To be sure, there are far fewer in the second image than the first. So, why did we fail to continue the successes so many of them achieved while in uniform? How do we keep them from entering that downward spiral of joblessness, depression, and substance abuse that often leads to homelessness and sometimes to suicide? Well, this isn’t about them—it’s about us.
A part of the answer is found in rehabilitative events like this Winter Sports Clinic. The Veterans and active-duty Service Members you’ll see here were all once a part of the first image.
Events like this Winter Sports Clinic offer the seriously wounded a new reality—because the reality is that there is much left to do in everyone’s life. In the words of a Veteran Paralympian, “you can do more than you think.” That’s the lesson we will all learn this week—made possible through your generosity.
On behalf of the President, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and America’s 23-million Veterans, I thank you for giving these very special men and women an opportunity to do more than they think they can.
God bless our men and women, who serve in uniform, God bless our Veterans, and God bless this wonderful country of ours. Thank you.