SALT LAKE CITY — When military veterans return from duty, they sometimes bring with them obvious signs of injury, or in some cases, invisible trauma.
The National Ability Center in Park City is lobbying state lawmakers for aid in helping to develop programs to support veterans and their families as they try to overcome those injuries and reconnect with society following their military service.
During the Utah Legislature's Veterans and Military Affairs Commission interim meeting earlier this month, lawmakers heard about programs run by the National Ability Center aimed at helping veterans dealing with physical and emotional issues related to their military service.
"We are getting great outcomes," CEO Gail Barille said. "So we are looking for the opportunity to partner with the state and continue to get great outcomes for our veterans."
The center's stated mission is “to empower individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence, and lifetime skills through sport, recreation, and educational programs.” The nonprofit organization, which contends that “at least 30 percent of all those served by the (National Ability Center) are service members or veterans and their families,” is seeking funding from the Legislature to expand programs at its indoor/outdoor facilities in Park City, Barille said.
She said the organization develops plans that promote "resilience and a healthy, active and enjoyable life through sport, recreation and educational programs." She added that long-term care of veterans and active duty military can be achieved through robust collaboration with public and legislative entities.
“What the National Ability Center does is provides programming, whether it's team-building or recreational activities, that sets them up to meet those goals and outcomes and compliments the work of our program partners,” Barille said.
For instance, she noted that the center is working with the University of Utah’s Center for Veterans Studies to support men and women coping with post-traumatic stress disorder to get therapy that will help them address their anxiety and depression.
“We’ve seen Vietnam veterans (and) folks from our more recent conflicts — post 9/11 — (improve significantly),” she said. “The incredible thing is that group has seen a 76 percent reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder in (a) 10-day period.”
Barille said the programs they have been able to develop have been very successful, but they require financial support on an ongoing basis to continue. To that end, being able to receive funding through the Legislature would be of great benefit going forward, she added.
The organization’s message was heard “loud and clear” by the 22 members of the legislative panel, said state Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who chairs the commission.
"(What they do) is impressive," he said. "They take these guys who are wounded very seriously and come back with disabilities … suffering from depression and other issues and get them out to kind of get their lives back together again. I was pretty impressed by it."
He noted that while the center did not make a specific funding request, he does believe their mission is worthwhile and deserves serious consideration from lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session in January.
"We look at programs that are positive and helpful," Ray said. "These are men and women who have sacrificed quite a bit. So if there is an opportunity for us to assist them and their families, we'll definitely take a hard look at it."
He added that among the top priorities of many legislators is doing what is possible to help veterans where they can. Last year, the Legislature gave the center a one-time allocation of funding, he noted, and there may be a good chance they could be funded again in 2018.
"Almost everybody on the commission has served (in the military) and understands (what's at stake)," Ray said. "These are (people) who are warriors. (Our support) would be helping to restore some of their self-esteem and dignity."