BVL: Pioneer in Recreation Therapy for Veterans – More than Seven Decades of Service

1942 BVL Beginnings: Purchased a medical evacuation airplane to ferry the wounded home from the battlefields to begin their recuperation

Now in our 75th year of service, BVL has held a premiere position in support of recreation therapy for our nation’s veterans.  With humble beginnings in World War II, and a long and storied history since, BVL has maintained its leadership role in providing recreational programs and services for those who have served our country.

BVL recently received an award from the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledging decades of service to America’s veterans.  The award reads, “With deep appreciation to BVL. Thank you for your generosity and support of Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Recreation therapy, designed to maintain or improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well as reduce depression, stress, and anxiety, has been the hallmark of BVL’s programming; helping veterans maintain or recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, and build confidence and socialization skills. To that end, BVL dollars have funded the purchase and use of sports equipment, arts and crafts supplies, pet therapy activities, games, dance, drama, music and community outings at VA Medical Centers, Vet Centers and State Homes around the nation.

President Harry S. Truman with BVL  tournament winners at the White House .

At the conclusion of  WWII, BVL began working alongside the forefathers of today’s recreation specialists.  In an interview with an acknowledged pioneer in the field for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Bernath Eugene Phillips, writer Jeff Mansfield quoted Phillips recalling work for the VA in 1945, “The BVL was one of the first (organizations) that I got associated with when I went to Washington…we used the BVL and started a bowling tournament among all VA hospitals. The first BVL tournament was held in 1947 and seven of the 31 VA hospitals were entered. (Former BVL Executive Director) A. L. Ebersole deserves the credit (for bringing this recreation therapy to the veterans).”

James E. Pixlee, the Director of Athletic Service of the Veterans Administration in 1947 wrote this about BVL, “It is impossible to overstate the value of the aid afforded by the BVL.”

Today, BVL remains at the forefront of recreation therapy for veterans.

Also, as it has for decades, BVL provides grants to individual VA hospitals for the purchase of the range of necessary materials – from sports equipment to art supplies, from books to musical instruments.  “We know we can count on BVL to get us the tools of our trade,” says William Ball, Chief, Voluntary Service for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System which has three inpatient divisions in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Livermore, California. “If we want to get a music therapy group together and need guitars, I go to the BVL.  If we want to take a group of the veterans to a ball game, and get them out of the hospital and have some fun, we call on BVL.  They have always been there for us.”

BVL funding supports a wide range of sports and exercise activities.  When the Hunter Holmes McGuire VAMC in Richmond, Va. constructed a new gym for their Polytrauma unit, BVL stepped in to purchase cardio machines, free weights and a number of other pieces of equipment.  “Providing opportunities for veterans to engage in physical activities makes a big difference in their physical and emotional progress,” explains Recreation Therapist Shari Hicks.  “BVL understands that this is a critical piece of the puzzle.  Not only did they help us with our new gym, but they’ve supported probably hundreds of other projects here, too, and made a difference in thousands of lives.”

Music is another popular therapy in which BVL is very involved.  For more than 30 years, BVL has sponsored the tours of the energetic and effervescent entertainment troupe “Re-Creation.”  Each year, a new edition of these young singers travels across the nation, performing for veterans in VA Medical Centers and State Homes, bringing their special version of musical therapy.    Here’s what the staff at the Togus, Maine VA Medical Center wrote, “Re-Creation visited us . . . bringing the veterans a wonderful stage performance. Our veterans laughed, cried, and sang right along with the music. It was immediately evident how much the performance touched them.”  And from the Recreation Therapy department at the VAMC in Tomah, Wis., “The members of Re-Creation were great.  Such talent and enthusiasm! I enjoyed watching the show, but I also enjoyed watching the veterans — their toes were tapping, smiles spread across their faces, and several were practically dancing right out of their wheelchairs! To say the performance is “therapeutic” is just a slight understatement!”

For 30 years, BVL has supported the tours of “Re-Creation” to VA Hospitals nationwide

Another new musical program for BVL is “Project Military Music.” In this unique endeavor, America’s great military bands – including the US Air Force Academy Band, the US Army Band “Pershing’s Own,”the US Navy Band, and “The President’s Own” Marine Band – donate their extra CDs to BVL, where BVL then packages and distributes them to recreation therapy contacts at VA Hospitals and State Homes for patients and visitors to enjoy.

In addition to BVL’s own therapy programs, it has been a longtime supporter of the annual national veteran’s competitions and clinics hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs – The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, Golden Age Games, Creative Arts Festival, Training Exposure Experience Tournament and the Summer and Winter Sports Clinics.  BVL has also supported a wide variety of other recreational therapy efforts including the USO and the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project.

BVL is headquartered in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.



1952 VA Administrator Carl Gray (left) presents BVL Director A.L. Ebersole with a VA Certificate of Appreciation

1957: BVL Director Ebersole (front right) at “Recreation for the Ill” Conference Photo