Of Note

Winter Sports Clinic Again Attracts Hundreds

Nearly 400 disabled veterans, including a handful of blinded veterans, hit the ski slopes April 3-8 at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, in Snowmass Village, Colorado.

The Clinic, jointly sponsored by VA and Disabled American Veterans (DAV), is the largest adaptive event of its kind in the world. It is generally held the first week of April. This year’s event was the 30th of its kind.
Michaun Harrison, right, with ski guide Jill Reifsnider

Mid-Atlantic Regional Group Secretary Michaun Harrison, right, with ski guide Jill Reifsnider of Adaptive Adventures on the slopes at the 2016 Winter Sports Clinic.

“This Clinic is an excellent example of how VA uses a holistic health care model to provide every veteran with physical and mental treatment options that work for them,” said Secretary McDonald. “Through sports and other forms of recreation therapy, we can greatly improve the quality of life for many of our nation’s heroes.”

In addition to teaching veterans Alpine and Nordic skiing, the Winter Sports Clinic introduces them to other adaptive recreational activities and sports such as rock climbing, scuba diving, snowmobiling, curling, sled hockey, and self-defense.

The Winter Sports Clinic is open to veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, and other disabilities, and who receive care at a VA Medical Center, VA Outpatient Clinic, or a Military Treatment Center.

Blinded veterans interested in attending the 2017 Winter Sports Clinic should visit www.wintersportsclinic.org or speak with their VIST Coordinator.

VA and PGA Announce Golf Partnership

VA and the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) have agreed to jointly develop golf programming to assist with the physical, social, and mental rehabilitation of America’s veterans.

The relationship was announced at a March 8 gathering of the news media, VSOs, PGA leaders, and officials from VA Central Office. The event took place at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in September of last year.

PGA HOPE, the acronym that stands for “Helping Our Patriots Everywhere,” uses PGA Reach, the charitable foundation of the PGA, to support rehabilitation for military veterans with disabilities. Goals include hosting golf clinics in designated communities throughout the United States, eventually in all 50 states, in order to introduce disabled members of the Armed Forces and veterans to the sport of golf.

VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, which also administers VA’s National Veterans TEE Tournament in which dozens of blinded veterans participate annually, agreed to assist the PGA Foundation by identifying appropriate VA officials and facilities and connecting them with PGA program administrators.

Facebook Computers Become Seeing-Eye Guides

A new feature recently rolled out April 5 on Facebook’s iPhone and iPad apps interprets what is in a picture using a form of artificial intelligence that recognizes faces and objects, according to an Associated Press report.

Until now, users relying on screen readers on Facebook have heard only that a person has shared a photo—with no elaboration. Voiceover, a screen reader familiar to blinded veterans with iPhones and iPads, is built into the software powering the devices but must be turned on for the photo descriptions to be read.

For now, the feature will be available only in English. The photo descriptions initially will be confined to a vocabulary of 100 words in a restriction that will prevent the computer from providing numerous details. For example, the automated voice may tell a user that a photo features three people smiling outdoors without adding that the trio has drinks in their hands. Similarly, a photo of a pizza may not include information about the toppings.

Eventually, however, Facebook hopes to refine the technology so that it provides more precise descriptions and even answers questions that a user might pose about a picture.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg praised the photo description tool as “an important step toward making sure that everyone has equal access to information and is included in the conversation.”

VA Researchers to Examine Service Animals and PTSD

VA is conducting a randomized controlled trial on service dogs with 200 veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to Patricia Dorn, Director of VA’s Rehabilitation Research and Development Service in Washington, researchers will assess veterans’ quality of life over a three-year period.

She said that while there is plenty of scientific evidence for the benefits of service dogs for people with physical disabilities, the jury is still out in the area of mental health.

“We understand that veterans are not happy with the agency for not providing this benefit,” Dorn said. “But for an agency with more than 150 hospitals and millions of veterans served, we need to have the evidence base to make a determination.”

She also said that an earlier effort to study service dogs and PTSD was halted in 2011 after two service dogs bit children in veterans’ homes. The current study has stricter standards for dog training and a more rigorous study design.