Change of Command

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2014

New Paralyzed Veterans of America leadership is ready to take charge this summer.

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The transition to summer doesn’t officially take place until next month, but just like the weather this time of year, change is already in the air for Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

That change started when the board of directors elected new leadership during February’s 68th Annual Convention in Orlando, Fla. Among the biggest shifts is the election of Al Kovach Jr. as national president.

A PVA member for more than 20 years, Kovach will take over for Bill Lawson when he officially takes office with the rest of the executive committee July 1. The committee’s term will run until June 30, 2015.

Lawson has been president for the last four years and will stay on with the executive committee as immediate past president. The 49-year-old Kovach believes he will be taking a “handoff” of sorts from Lawson.

“I actually see myself as say the 36th runner in a relay, and basically Bill is handing the baton off to me,” says Kovach, who has served as national senior vice president for the past four terms. “I’ll continue to pursue similar goals, but I plan to take a much different approach.”

Kovach’s election as president isn’t the only change on the executive committee. Former vice president David Zurfluh was elected as the organization’s national senior vice president. Reelected to this year’s executive committee as national vice presidents are Charlie Brown and Tamara Lawter. Ken Weas returns to the executive committee as national vice president, joined by Joe Fox, who was also elected as a national vice president. Larry Dodson returns as national secretary and Tom Wheaton joins the committee as treasurer.

Zurfluh is enthusiastic about the committee changes.

Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff Jose D. Riojas was among several speakers during the convention.

“There’s been a big shift in the executive committee with a lot of young, up-and-coming folks,” Zurfluh says. “I’m really excited with the group that we have.”

The change in leadership obviously doesn’t alter the mission of PVA, but Kovach and Zurfluh each have things they want to focus on when they take office.

Do More Talking

One of the areas Kovach wants to focus on is the relationship between PVA and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

A particular point of interest is improving site visits (inspections) of VA medical centers that ensure veterans are getting the best possible care. PVA and the VA each performs individual site visits of facilities. However, while PVA conducts unannounced inspections, there is concern on how the VA conducts its visits.

Chief Consultant in the Office of Spinal Cord Injury/Disorders (SCI/D) in VA Patient Care Services Barry Goldstein, MD, carries out site visits for the VA. During a presentation at the convention, Goldstein was asked how much advance notice he gives a facility when organizing a visit. Goldstein said he asks the facility chief when the best time to visit is and the lead time is usually “several weeks.”

That response didn’t sit well with conventioneers who agreed by applause that giving advance notice of a visit doesn’t let the inspectors see things as they really are. Goldstein was “strongly cautioned to look deeper” at the centers. He acknowledged the group’s concern and said it was “something to really think about.” Despite that issue, Kovach sees opportunity.

“His (Goldstein) willing to be here and subject himself to questions really gives me a lot of hope for the future relationship between PVA and VA,” Kovach says. “It doesn’t always have to be contentious. Sometimes if you do more talking, you can figure it out.”

During his talk, Goldstein echoed Kovach’s interest in a better relationship between PVA and the VA, saying “if we’re not working together on these issues, we’re in trouble.”

Reaching Out

Goldstein’s presentation also included how many veterans are being treated in VA medical centers (chart at upper left) and Zurfluh thinks those numbers are another area of focus for PVA.

The doctor mentioned that roughly 30,000 veterans with SCI/D were cared for at VA medical facilities in the last fiscal year. PVA has about 19,000 members and Zurfluh says something has to be done to address that disparity.

“We need to reach out to those individuals and find out why they don’t want to join,” Zurfluh says. “Maybe they don’t know about us and we need to tell them who we are and what we do and hopefully get them to join.”

Within that outreach effort is another thing Zurfluh would like to accomplish. The idea that veterans may not know about PVA has him thinking of ways to make the organization stand out more and distinguish itself from the Wounded Warrior Project.

“That is one of the biggest goals I see, overall,” Zurfluh says. “They’re getting a lot of free advertising in Congress and on talk shows. I’d like to see if we can get some free publicity and get on talk shows where you get good exposure.”

The Place for SCI/D

Exposure and helping PVA grow are also concepts shared by Kovach.

“I want PVA to be THE place to go when you’re talking about spinal-cord injury,” he says.

One of the ways the former Navy SEAL would like to do that is by expanding PVA’s annual summit. Kovach says PVA has the expertise and he wants to see the organization continue training the people caring for our vets, as well as SCI/D patients around the world.

“I would love to see a doctor in China treating someone with a spinal-cord injury get on the PVA website and download our CPGs (Clinical Practice Guidelines) in Mandarin.”

Kovach also sees opportunity for PVA to expand its reach. He says it’s difficult to find someone with SCI/D who doesn’t have other medical issues such as brain injury or a broken leg. Kovach believes PVA’s medical staff is used to handling tough cases and that allows the organization to offer more help to veterans.

“Polytrauma is right up our alley and I would like to see if the VA would possibly work with us to apply our expertise to other disabilities.” Kovach says.

There’s Promise Ahead

A growing PVA would also place a greater need on financial donations, but as the economy continues to get better, Kovach and Zurfluh see promise.

“Three years ago, we weren’t fiscally where we wanted to be, but we turned that around and that’s been the director and executive committee working hard to get there,” Zurfluh says.

Zurfluh adds that traditional funds from the support of donors is “always going to be there,” but PVA is taking the right steps to look at attracting new and younger donors.

Kovach believes a stronger marketing effort by PVA is key to helping get the donors Zurfluh mentions.

“One improvement I would like to see in PVA is that we have to bolster our marketing efforts. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had consultants or employees who did nothing but marketing?” he says. “The time is good because now we have the new logo and we’re launching the new brand of PVA.”

For more information on the convention and additional photos, visit Read the full resolutions from the convention here.


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