Warfighter Sports Programming

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Defining a Warfighter

Warfighters include any veteran or member of the armed forces with a permanent physical disability. Disabilities served include, but are not limited to, spinal cord injury, amputation, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment and severe nerve/muscle damage that impairs movement. 

If space is limited, priority should be placed on the newly injured, or those who have not had a chance to participate in adaptive sports previously.


Plan your recruitment based on whether you will be working with in-patients or out-patients.  For a full overview of military-specific recruitment tools, view the webinar on the Disabled Sports USA YouTube channel.

In-patients are defined as those warfighters who are currently receiving care at a major military medical facility (Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center, Naval Medical Center San Diego).  These patients may not attend events without a therapist present.  Recruitment for these trips is done through the adaptive sports department instead of with patients directly.  When working with this population, make sure:

  • Proffer paperwork is submitted at least 4 months prior (DSUSA can assist)
  • Patients are medically cleared for all activities (list all sports offered in proffer)

Out-patients are warfighters who have completed active rehab and are able to attend events on their own accord. 

  • Work with local Veteran Service Organizations, Warrior Transition Units, and VA Medical Centers
    • Disabled Sports USA may be able to help connect you
  • Disabled Sports USA may be able to promote your event to its military database

Traumatic Brain Injury Training

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) training for sports instructors and volunteers is available on the Disabled Sports USA YouTube Channel.  Volunteers and instructors are encouraged to watch this training before working with participants with TBI.

Below are some brief tips for working with those who have a TBI:

  • Provide as many written tools as possible (schedules, contact sheets, etc) to prevent the student from having to remember important details.
  • Do not overwhelm the student with multiple instructions at one time.
  • Watch for signs of over-stimulation or stress.
    • Take frequent breaks if necessary
  • Avoid crowded areas and noisy spaces if at all possible.

Post Traumatic Stress Training

Veterans and members of the armed forces may have post traumatic stress (PTSD) as a diagnosis in addition to their physical disability.  A full PTSD training is available on the Disabled Sports USA YouTube Channel.  Volunteers and instructors are encouraged to watch this training before working with participants with PTSD.

Below are some brief tips for working with those who have PTSD:

  • Request that participants state any PTSD triggers in their application  materials so you are aware of situations to avoid.
  • Avoid crowded areas if at all possible.
  • Warn the student if there is the possibility of loud noises (i.e. fireworks, avalanche cannons, etc.)
  • Make all social activities optional.
  • Refrain from activities that may amplify PTSD symptoms (i.e. war games, alcohol consumption, hypnosis and gunfire)
  • Keep the focus on adaptive sports instead of aspects of military service.

Inappropriate behavior by service members need not be tolerated .  Every effort should be made to diffuse situations through time away from the group, collaboration with on-site military staff and/or family, and contacting Disabled Sports USA staff if necessary.

Alcohol Policies

Disabled Sports USA advises not to provide any free alcohol to participants (it may be available for purchase at your event). 

Major military medical centers have a policy against providing alcohol to active-duty military members.  Disabled Sports USA accepts these policies on your behalf.  If host organizations create an environment where excessive alcohol consumption is encouraged they may jeopardize our collective organizations’ eligibility to serve wounded service members.

Solicitation and Fundraising

Active duty service members are not permitted by the military to fundraise for an organization.  This includes attending fundraising events, public speaking that requests funds, and asking service members to wear their uniforms outside of active service.

Once the service member is a veteran, it is a personal choice whether he or she would like to speak to sponsors on your behalf.  If any sports activity will also be a fundraiser, it is best to let all participants know beforehand to allow individuals the option of participation.

Social and Recognition Events

While it is understandable to want to recognize service members for their service to our country, it is recommended to keep recognition-type events to a minimum at programs.  Events such as welcome committees,  parades, fireworks, etc. are known to exacerbate PTSD symptoms and should be avoided.

Instead, keep the focus on a therapeutic recreation/sports experience and make all social events optional.

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