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PVA From The Top: Progress & Purpose

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News February 2016

Without PVA's efforts, $1 billion in veterans' benefits just last year would still be federal funds

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The world won’t change itself, it needs people to step up to the plate and make those changes happen.”

These words were said to me by disabled advocate Peter Mirche as I lay in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in 1991, recovering from a parachuting accident that would leave me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. At the time, I respected his point of view but couldn’t see anything beyond my own recovery. It wasn’t until I joined Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) that I remembered his statement and realized I was a part of change.

That was almost 25 years ago, during which I’ve seen PVA make remarkable advancements in the quality of life for veterans and others with disabilities. As we mark PVA’s 70th year, I can see the trajectory of that progress and how it impacted an average day in my own life. 

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize progress, but when you look at your own personal experiences from the long months after injury, through the rehabilitation process, to wherever you are today, you can see it.  

As you navigate public transportation and buildings, you can see the mark made by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). While there are still issues, the world for a wheelchair user has changed much since its passage in 1990. PVA was a leader in that change and continues to advocate for the execution of all ADA mandates.

In 1979, the technical needs of those with mobility impairments were established with the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). These standards enhanced every move you make, whether it’s the motor on your wheelchair or your prosthetic arm. Another thing for which much thanks can be given to PVA.

After PVA gained spinal-cord injury centers in VA hospitals in 1970, the VA requested the organization work with them to ensure quality of care. PVA now conducts annual quality care visits to the nation’s 25 centers to ensure the ultimate quality of care and comfort for veterans. Every one of us knows what a positive impact this has on our continued good health.

Without PVA’s efforts, $1 billion in veterans’ benefits just last year would still be federal funds. If you’re one of the many clients PVA has helped over the years, I don’t have to tell you how it impacted your life. But, if you don’t work with a PVA National Service Officer (NSO) on benefits and vocational opportunities, you’ve only begun to know how PVA impacts your life.  

The PVA sports program has made all the difference in the continued good health of veterans with mobility impairments. Just as important is the way it’s changed the public image of all persons with disabilities. People now appreciate the technology and research involved in reintegrating soldiers into a world where their disabilities don’t equal inabilities. If you’re one of the 600-plus veterans who participates each year in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, you know what I mean.

In 70 years, PVA has seen policies, programs and progress for our veterans. It was established under the prevailing belief that paralyzed veterans were their own strongest advocates and could be the most effective collective voice for the disabled community. Time has proven this belief to be fact, and every member of PVA is a part of that mission.  

If you don’t believe you are, find out how you can be. If you’ve never considered working as an NSO or in another capacity for PVA, perhaps you should. If you haven’t worked with Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment) to find your next career opportunity, you don’t really know all your options. If you’ve never participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, maybe it’s time to add rehabilitative sports to your wellness goals.  

Remember what Pete said — the world won’t change itself. As I’ve discovered firsthand, embracing change brings progress, and being a part of it brings purpose.

 

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PVA From The Top: Progress & Purpose

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