Letters to the Editor


TEE Tournament Now in Trouble


For 18 years, the TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament has provided legally blinded veterans with the chance to play golf and interact with other blinded veterans in a recreational rehabilitation setting and environment. The event occurs in Iowa City, Iowa, and consists of a marvelous community effort that includes both the local residents and the VA Medical Center.

Beginning in 2009, the TEE Tournament became a VA-sponsored national event that brought even greater support and professionalism. Veterans with disabilities other than blindness were also included in the games.

Now, Christopher J. Nowak, Director of the VA Office of National Sports Programs and Special Events, has decided to disband the TEE Tournament after this 19th year. What he wants instead of the TEE Tournament is several "Swing" clinics held throughout the country.

Mr. Nowak is trying to redirect the VA Special Events from a clinic format to a competitive format. The new slogan for the VA Special Events is "Mission Redefined," as I understand it. 

Mr. Nowak told Kirt Sickles, Director of the TEE Tournament, that the golf event in its current format provided no benefit to disabled veterans and that it was the worst of the VA national events.

This is a very surprising declaration from Mr. Nowak since he has never actually attended a TEE Tournament. Mr. Nowak indicated at the recently held Winter Sports Clinic that the VA Special Events should be grooming athletes for the Paralympics.

This is an obvious slight to older veterans who are not in a position to seriously compete for future consideration in events such as the Paralympics. Such older veterans are also those who most benefited from the TEE Tournament. They are the reason for which it was established, something Mr. Nowak fails to understand. He does not realize the value of veterans competing against themselves and their disability rather than against their fellow veterans. He does not comprehend the value of finishing and succeeding in something that they believed they could never attempt. 

Dennis O'Connell
Floral Park, New York

Victorian Era Strand Historic District of Galveston
Victorian Era Strand Historic District of Galveston

Adaptive Sports for Veterans: A Response


Veterans who have suffered traumatic injuries face numerous obstacles in their rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities. I know first-hand how difficult it is to face your fears and overcome self-perceived limitations. When I lost my leg to friendly fire in the United States Marine Corps, I thought my life was over. But I ultimately found a renewed sense of purpose and hope through sports – specifically through hockey. And when I was selected to play for the US Amputee Hockey Team, it was better than any medicine a doctor could prescribe.

As Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) adaptive sport office, my goal is to provide the same sense of hope and purpose to other veterans who have experienced physical, mental or emotional wounds. My office provides opportunities for veterans to both learn and compete in adaptive sports, as well as art therapy programs.

For years, VA has been a leader in providing therapeutic experiences for veterans through adaptive sports. These programs have been shown to provide numerous benefits, including improved health and well being, less dependency on pain medication, and a greater sense of pride and confidence. As such, these are health-care programs, and to participate, veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system.

The TEE Tournament began in 1994 as a golf program for visually-impaired veterans. The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) was integral to its founding. That is why I am deeply troubled when I learned that BVA members have heard reports that I am canceling the TEE Tournament, eliminating VA's instructional adaptive sport programs, and focused on developing Paralympic athletes.

As a golfer and founder of a VA-sponsored golf clinic – The "First Swing" Clinic at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, I firmly believe in the value of golf as a therapeutic activity. My experience running a golf clinic taught me that many veterans are simply unable to attend week-long events, due to family and work commitments. That is why I began exploring the possibility of expanding the TEE Tournament by hosting up to 10 one-day golf clinics in communities throughout the country. This would allow us to introduce golf to more veterans and help them re-integrate into their communities and stay active throughout the year.

I invite BVA members to partner with their local VA Medical Centers to explore the possibility of hosting a golf clinic. And I would like to invite TEE Tournament veterans who have mastered adaptive golf to serve as mentors to new golfers in their communities and encourage them to set a goal of attending the TEE Tournament once they gain the confidence and skill.

My office is evaluating all of its programs to ensure they are best serving the needs of veterans. The intent of this evaluation is not to disband or cancel any events, but to expand the reach of our adaptive sport programs and provide Veterans with opportunities to regularly participate in sports and recreation in their communities.

I value the support of BVA and all of our Veterans Service Organizations and sponsors. I would be more than happy to answer any specific questions from BVA members who may have continued concerns. Please contact my office by calling 202-632-7152 or e-mailing vacoadaptivesp@va.gov. Semper Fi!

Christopher J. Nowak, Director 
Office of VA National Veterans Sports Programs and 
Special Events

Blinded veterans, their families, and convention exhibitors will gather in the spacious Galveston Island Convention Center for major meetings and events. The two-story, 140,000-square-foot complex offers a dramatic beachfront setting with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lee DeForke, Jr.
Blinded veterans, their families, and convention exhibitors will gather in the spacious Galveston Island Convention Center for major meetings and events. The two-story, 140,000-square-foot complex offers a dramatic beachfront setting with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lee DeForke, Jr.

Buck Knife Program Highlights Sacrifice


Thank you for the article in the Winter 2012 Bulletin relating to our Buck Knife presentations. BVA members may be interested to know that, in addition to the Buck commemorative knives presented to your attendees at the 64th National Convention in Portland in 2009, a similar presentation was made to members of the Spokane Inland Empire Regional Group that same year.

Commemorative knives were also sent to the Wounded Warrior Program at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton, California, in 2007. In 2010, the knives were presented at the Disabled American Veterans Idaho state convention. Chuck Buck and I went to the DAV Montana state convention a year later to present the knives. We will do it this year at the Washington state convention.

These are only a few of the many veterans who have received a special Buck commemorative knife to honor their sacrifice. Every cent contributed to this program is used to purchase the knives. My wife, Betsy, and I pay all of our own travel expenses.

May thanks be given to God and to the following additional parties for making the program a success: Chuck Buck of Buck Knives, Inc; Mike Patrick, Managing Editor of the Coeur d'Alene Press; the Post Falls Press; and to all of our donors.

Graham Crutchfield
Hayden, Idaho