Reaching Out

Reprinted from PN April 2009

“Leadership, Service, Empowerment”—the words may change from year to year, but the message remains the same.

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In April 2008, Augie Krieser, Wisconsin PVA government relations officer, and Gus Sorenson, WPVA government relations director, visited Stacy Jaeger’s first-grade class at Jackson Elementary School in Manitowoc, near Milwaukee, Wis. For five years, Krieser and Sorenson had met with Ms. Jaeger’s class once or twice annually.

According to the teacher, her kids really look forward to a visit from these two Vietnam veterans. Her classes have “adopted” them and enthusiastically listen and interact with them as the vets tell the story of (1) what it is like to be a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and (2) what life has been like as wheelchair users for many years.

Information booths at numerous venues include displays, such as this one staffed by Annmarie Kelleher (left) and Christine Heiner of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), in Pittsburgh.
Krieser and Sorenson explain what it means to be quadriplegic, how they were injured, and how they have adapted to their disability. The kids are surprised to learn the vets have full-time jobs, drive their own vehicles, and participate in such sports as quad rugby and track and field. Sorenson and Krieser often provide an extra wheelchair or two so the kids and their teacher can experience mobility on wheels. The energy of a group of 20 first-graders gives Sorenson and Krieser quite a boost that lasts for some time after class.

Truth be told, the veterans look forward to the visits as much as the kids do. And activities such as this help get the word out—the who, what, when, where, and why of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

Creating Recognition

A special time is set aside each year to honor and highlight the continuing service and leadership of America’s paralyzed veterans. It takes place in the week containing April 14, commemorating the anniversary of PVA’s founding just over six decades ago.

During last year’s PVA Awareness Week, April 13-19, 2008, Americans were encouraged to take time out of their busy schedules to honor the people who have put their lives on the line for our country’s freedom. With events and activities across the country and the theme “Courage to Serve, Passion to Lead,” PVA Awareness Week (PAW) 2008 highlighted the challenges facing veterans with spinal-cord injury/dysfunction. It also focused on PVA’s work to empower seriously wounded veterans and their families with everything they need to thrive.

“Think about the unique challenges we paralyzed veterans face every day—from having to fight for good healthcare to striving for a barrier-free, wheelchair-accessible nation,” said PVA President Randy L. Pleva Sr. “Learn more about PVA, our continuing courage to serve, our passion to lead the charge for all veterans and their families, and the life-saving and life-changing results we are delivering. And, please always support efforts to empower those who have served and sacrificed. Help us help ourselves.”

In just 61 years, PVA has:

— Helped increase the life span and quality of life of paralyzed veterans from zero to near normal

— Helped lead the charge for the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), making our nation more accessible for everyone

— Fought for and secured more than $3 billion in benefits for servicemembers and veterans

— Been the voice of paralyzed veterans in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in statehouses throughout America

— Pioneered wheelchair sports, and, for the past 23 years, presented—with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the world’s largest annual wheelchair sports event

— Invested more than $50 million in research to find a cure for paralysis

“Sixty-two years ago, a band of seriously wounded brothers returned home from World War II to a grateful nation and to a world with few solutions to the challenges they faced,” said Pleva. “These paralyzed heroes made a decision not just to live, but to live with dignity. They created Paralyzed Veterans of America, an organization built on our members’ continued courage to serve and passion to lead.”

Educating Our Society

Founded in 1946, PVA is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization (VSO) dedicated solely to the benefit and representation of people with SCI/D. It seeks information about important issues facing veterans and, in many cases, all people with disabilities. The disability community has benefited from many PVA-supported projects. For example, PVA backed the setting of wheelchair standards.

PAW was created through a PVA Board resolution in 1984 to bring public attention to the organization and its mission. In 2001, PAW was revived to publicize PVA, what it does, and how it makes a difference in the lives of paralyzed veterans and others with disabilities every day.

Find out about some of the PAW activities that were held in 2008.


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