Wyoming veterans with disabilities could soon have greater access to specialized sports activity equipment through grant funding from the United States Veterans Administration.
Albany County recently received a $200,735 adaptive sports grant in partnership with the Wyoming Consortium for Veterans Activities, or WyCVA, a coalition of Wyoming groups and agencies interested in providing adaptive sports services and other activities for veterans. Locally, the University of Wyoming, Albany County School District No. 1 and the city of Laramie are all part of the coalition.
Albany County Grants Manager Tai Wright said the next step is identifying the key needs, wants and interests of veterans who could benefit from the grant.
“Statewide, we know that there are a little over 10,000 veterans living in Wyoming that currently receive VA benefits,” she said. “And based off of the data that we have, we know that the current veterans’ sports activities are serving less than 1 percent of the population.”
Through a partnership with ACSD No. 1, some of the funds will support additional equipment in the new Laramie High School weight room, Wright said.
“In turn, what that will do for veterans within Albany County is allow them to open up their doors for CrossFit and for UW veterans services and other veterans to go in and use that equipment, either through organized groups or like a CrossFit group,” she said.
Canyon Hardesty, coordinator of community education at the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, or WIND — also a member of WyCVA — said her organization regularly works with the veteran population.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to just bring in some additional — not just funding — but awareness and collaboration among lots of different groups who are doing the same sort of pieces and maybe provide a sort of a one-stop portal,” she said.
WIND will be responsible for creating a website and marketing materials for veterans’ organizations throughout Albany County and Wyoming, Hardesty said. The majority of the grant funding will go toward the Casper Biathlon, Teton Adaptive Sports and ACSD No. 1.
“We have some identified specific equipment such as the (adaptive skiing equipment) and some bikes and some adaptive fishing rods and those sorts of pieces,” Hardesty said. “But also, we’re going to use this as a year to learn about additional needs and trends throughout the state, to better purchase equipment in the future using some of the additional funds we have in this grant, and then potentially if we apply for new funding going forward.”
For Marty Martinez, senior project coordinator at the University of Wyoming Veterans Services Center, the grant funding is a “great asset.”
“We do programming for all of our student veterans who come here, and their families,” he said. “We try to work with them to help them with the transition piece, moving from the military to civilian life, and a lot of that is helping them to become active again in any type of activity to improve their health or just remain active in general. So, the grant opportunity, then, really helps us to serve our community of veterans who may be experiencing limitation of movement or any other type of disabling effect, especially from injuries or circumstances related to their military service.”
The center, which works with 700 student veterans, is currently working to identify the needs of the people it serves and locate the appropriate equipment. For instance, in a kayaking program, veterans with loss of movement could benefit from specialized kayaks rented from Fort Collins, Colorado, or purchased directly, Martinez said.
“We’re not seeing great levels of disability here on our campus in terms of physical disability,” he said. “We are still seeing veterans affected with some mental health concerns or issues, as well as light disability, like limitation of movement, which then limits their opportunities to do some of the things we’re trying to do, especially in our outdoor fishing programs.”
The center’s programming will include both veterans at the university and within the greater Albany County community, Martinez said.
“A lot of the budget is going to be based upon the activities that we do and the need that we find in doing those activities,” he said. “So, right now, when we’re advertising, we obviously try to make this open, and we try to do what we can to accommodate any veteran who’s coming there and whatever their needs are. We’ve never had the opportunity to provide this type of equipment.”