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Getting them to the green: DAV members ensure fellow veterans can experience the 2019 Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament.

At 94, Army veteran Marion Ladd can no longer drive--not because of his age, but because he's legally blind. His caregiver, Leona Fitzgerald, handles that task for him on the local roads and cart paths of Orem, Utah.

"I'm a golfer," Ladd said. "She takes me to and from, and she's my guide out there on the golf cart."

Having that capability allowed the World War II veteran to join more than 260 disabled veterans--most visually impaired like himself--for the first time at the 26th annual National Disabled Veterans TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa.

The tournament, which was held in September and presented by DAV and the Department of Veterans Affairs, is made possible by strategic corporate partnerships, nonprofit organizations and individual donors. It offers legally blind veterans and those with life-changing disabilities the chance to experience adaptive golf with instruction from PGA professionals, as well as opportunities to develop new skills and challenge their perceived limitations through other recreational activities like horseback riding, disc golf, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and biking.

"Rehabilitative and adaptive sporting events like the TEE Tournament play an integral role in veterans' recoveries," said National Commander "Butch" Whitehead. "The health, wellness, fellowship and camaraderie that participants experience at this life-changing event are unparalleled."

"He's very aware of his age and his handicap," said Fitzgerald, who has been Ladd's caregiver for the past three years. "But since he has been here, I've seen him come alive. It has been so fun for him."

Travel for Ladd was provided by DAV Chapter 6 in Dubuque, Iowa. Five DAV entities support it at the gold star level. In Oklahoma, DAV and Auxiliary state-level departments, chapters, units and even juniors are major sources of funding for the event.

"Our DAV Auxiliary Juniors are active year-round and they regularly see how a service-connected disability can impact the lives of those who served and their families," said Danny Oliver, DAV Department of Oklahoma adjutant.

The children have met participants like past DAV National Commander Dave Riley, a quadruple amputee who has attended the tournament and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

They raised $10,000 at the states joint DAV and Auxiliary annual convention and by attending monthly meetings. At the convention, they created a photo booth, sold candy and even jokingly held attending veterans and family members ransom. At meetings, they participated in pie auctions and conducted raffles and drawings. Over the last four years, Oliver said, they've raised more than $33,000, primarily from Oklahoma chapters and units, to support DAV and VA co-presented programs.

"They're inspired by veterans and feel that participation in adaptive sports is a way to give something back that they sacrificed for our freedom," Oliver said.

"Our partnership with the VA in putting on events like this and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado over the years continues to get better and better every year," said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. "But none of it would be possible without all the selfless VA and DAV volunteers. I'm humbled by the amazing people who so freely give their time so that veterans like Marion can experience these adaptive sporting events."

"I'm just so thankful to everyone who helped get us there and for the folks at the tournament," said Ladd. "They were all there because they wanted to be there. It was marvelous, and I appreciate it.

By M. Todd Hunter
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Author:Hunter, M. Todd
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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