Paralyzed Veterans of America: Breaking Ground for Benefits

Reprinted from PN November 2006

Helping veterans secure benefits is central to PVA's mission. The organization's reputationand consequently that of its national service program—is one of credibility.

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Ernest ("Ernie") Chavez left Albuquerque, N.M., in 1943 to serve in the U.S. Army. An automobile accident in 1955 resulted in his spinal-cord injury (SCI). He eventually joined Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and participated in the activities of various chapters. When he settled in Albuquerque, his involvement with the organization increasedand continued until his death in 2005.

NSO Carmen Gonzalez (right) and NSO Candidate Maurice Valeriano build their expertise in a veterans' workshop for starting small businesses. The event took place at the Hines (Ill.) VA Hospital in 1988, then headed by John Fears (left).
However, Chavez was associated most with the development and progress of PVA's Veterans Benefits Department (VBD). This involvement began prior to PVA's 1971 congressional charterbefore PVA members could receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accreditation to represent claimants before VA. Chavez and other volunteers worked through another service organization to obtain benefits for PVA members.

A concerted grass-roots lobbying effort impressed upon Congress the need for the charter and, as a result, PVA's official status as a veterans' service organization (VSO). (Only congressionally chartered organizations could represent veterans and argue for benefits before VA.) Each chapter continued to operate its own volunteer service program. Chavez was among the first PVA service officers accredited by VA. From the start, Chavez was involved with training efforts, describing initial attempts as "certainly inadequate, but it was the best we could do at the time with the resources available." Instruction consisted of three weeks of intensive training at specified PVA offices. Even so, the skills of many PVA service officers tended to be acquired on an on-the-job, trial-and-error basis. The process of hiring people with experience, training those already in the program, and instructing new employees with no prior experience in service work was a difficult one. When financial resources increased dramatically, PVA was able to begin organizing a salaried, truly professional program.

Read more about how PVA continues the fight to make sure PVA members receive the benefits they deserve.


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Paralyzed Veterans of America: Breaking Ground for Benefits


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