Sport competitions like the Invictus Games started by UK's Prince Harry for wounded veterans are in the news, highlighting how being active following a life-altering injury can improve disabled veterans' quality of life. These athletes are able to overcome the odds with sporting events coming back with a positive mindset and show the public the hurdles that wounded veterans are overcoming. The push of these games has an impact with how the military is dealing with the recovery process of rehab for soldiers dealing with combat injury.
For military veterans who have been wounded during combat, participation in sports can be a motivator for adapting to new limitations. These men and women come back from the battle field with physical and mental health hurdles that can lead them to feel that they're less than who they were. Many facing life-changing disabilities begin to withdraw and face depression. It has been found that by using sport as part of an overall rehabilitation plan, disabled combat veterans gain a chance to see that they can take on and succeed new challenges. These type of programs let vets know that they can still be heroes on the playing field and motivate others in the process.
There has been an increased number of wounded veterans rising from conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Many of those returning from the battlefield are left to deal with visible injuries like amputations, spinal cord injuries and/or traumatic brain injury. Others have invisible disabilities like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the past, rehab programs dealt mostly with the physical matter of injuries, but there has been a push to improve mental health measures for wounded soldiers as they heal. The positive benefits for those who are able to take part in these type of programs show that sport can heal the soul of a warrior facing the struggles of being disabled.
There have been intensive studies on how sport can impact a wounded vet's overall well-being. Two of these studies, Brittain & Green, 2012 and Burke & Utley, 2013 found that by taking part in challenging activities subjects were better able to manage their injuries and deal with the mental health issues of becoming disabled. Other studies have shown that drug use and depression is lessened when exercise and physical activities are part of the rehab plan. Wounded vets who continue with sport following their initial rehabilitation have a better chance of having a good quality of life and moving forward in their nonmilitary life.
Taking part in sport and exercise classes help disabled veterans at every stage of recovery enjoy daily living more than those who don't have a sport outlet. By having an activity that they can focus on other than their new limitations, sport gives them a 'time-out' from thinking about their injuries. In addition to sports that are performed outside, wounded veterans reconnect with the environment, which has a calming effect. Many of these veterans say that having sport in their lives give them the motivation to get back to living and feeling useful.
Using sport as a rehabilitation method for wounded military members is becoming more active. With the positive media coverage promoting Paralympic sporting events, these programs have become a higher priority, allowing for more veterans to take part in sport. The media attention has also given governments the push to increase spending for sport rehabilitation programs, opening up more opportunities for the veterans who are in need.
For the heroes on the battlefield who return home with broken bodies and spirit, sport can be a life saver. Being able to achieve new experiences and take part in competitions allow wounded veterans a new way to achieve their dreams and truly recover from their traumas.