Remarks by Former Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould
30th Annual Olin E. Teague Award Presentation
November 5, 2011
Thank you, Doctor [Madhulika Agarwal], for that kind introduction. Let me acknowledge some of our special guests:
- Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas;
- Former Deputy Secretary Hershel Gober;
- Our honoree, David Van Sleet of VISN 18; David's parents Jack and Pauline, who have come up from Florida to be here; and his sister Kim, who lives in Northern Virginia; David's special guest Josh Wege, Marine Veteran of Afghanistan, now a pitcher and first-baseman on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team;
- Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey; Assistant Secretary Joan Mooney; Deputy Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Glenn Powers; Ms. Susan Bowers, Network Director, VISN 18:
- Other distinguished guests, fellow Veterans, ladies and gentlemen:
Good afternoon and thank you for coming to this important ceremony—the presentation of the 2011 Olin E. Teague Award. For 31 years now, VA has bestowed this award in recognition of significant contributions in an area of vital importance: rehabilitating and improving the quality of life for war-injured Veterans.
It's only fitting that we would present this award in the very room where Chairman Teague spent so much of his time championing the men and women who have borne the battle on our behalf. He is still the longest-serving chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs since it was formed in 1946—18 years advocating for Veterans.
As a highly decorated Veteran of World War II, wounded many times in combat, Teague knew, more than most, what our Veterans go through on the battlefield and what battles they face when they come home. Thanks to his compassion, dedication, and leadership, millions of Veterans have lived longer, happier, more productive lives.
The nature of war has changed since Tiger Teague's time. Military medicine has changed, too, and is today saving lives that would have been lost years ago. In Korea and Vietnam, our ratio of combat deaths to surviving wounded was 1:3. In the first two years in Iraq, it was 1:13. Clearly, more of our wounded are surviving—but more of the survivors are permanently disabled by devastating injuries, requiring months of rehabilitation and sometimes a life-time of care.
VA has long been a leader in the development of prosthetic technology, and we are now also investing heavily in rehabilitation for the signature wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just last week, in San Antonio, Secretary Shinseki opened our fifth new polytrauma rehabilitation center, where Veterans suffering from a combination of debilitating wounds can receive comprehensive in-patient and out-patient care, in a family-friendly environment.
Our honoree today has worked almost his entire career in prosthetics at VA—30 years. But the work he's being honored for today falls outside his official duties. It's something he himself dreamed up and made happen. And he does it on his own time—without pay.
When David first proposed putting together an all-amputee softball team, his sponsors at the University of Arizona said, "Impossible!" That was all it took to motivate David to prove them wrong.
He spent months sorting through hundreds of applications, looking for the best athletes and the most motivated Veterans, before settling on the 20 or so he thought might make the team. Then he spent another six months turning them into a team—a winning team, in fact. In their first game, last March, they trounced a team from the FBI, 35 to 10. They only play non-amputee teams, and so far they are 10 and 7.
Success like that can't help but attract attention, and the Wounded Warriors have gotten their share and then some. But the real measure of success is the effect the team has had on its members and the people who see them play.
For team members, it's an opportunity to recover the thrill of athletic competition they enjoyed in school, as well as the intense camaraderie they experienced in the military. Shortstop Matt Kinsey, who lost a foot in Afghanistan, told Sports Illustrated, "It's a new normal. We're getting a second chance to be athletes, to do things that we thought we'd never be able to do again. And I think we're doing it at a pretty high level."
For the rest of us, it's an inspiring display of both the wonders of technology and the strength of the human spirit. It's a lesson in life for all of us to see a one-armed batter single into center field—and then see Josh Wege, here, round third and race for home. Spectacles like that put most of the challenges the rest of us face in a whole different perspective. And they're only possible because David Van Sleet had the dream and worked day and night to make it happen and keep it happening.
In the past couple of years, VA senior leaders, led by Secretary Shinseki, have collaborated on identifying VA's core values. After much debate, we came up with five: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence. Each of these words is deeply meaningful for the work we do, and when you take the first letter of each word, you get the acronym "I CARE"—which very neatly sums up what VA is all about.
What says "I CARE" better than David's leadership of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team? And what could be more in keeping with Chairman Teague's life-long concern to improve the lives of wounded Veterans?
It therefore gives me great pleasure to present David P. Van Sleet with the 2011 Olin E. Teague Award. On behalf of the Secretary and our Nation's Veterans, congratulations and thank you.