Certainty Of Purpose
Certainty of purpose. PN Staff
PVA's 70th Annual Convention was an opportunity to remember the past while looking forward to changing lives and building brighter futures for seriously injured veterans.
The St. Johns River meanders through the heart of Jacksonville, Fla., at such a slow rate that it’s known as a “lazy river.” However, that trait had no impact on May’s Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) 70th Annual Convention held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel along the banks of the river.
As a matter of fact, it almost seems the river’s lazy vibe had the exact opposite effect on the convention. The leaders and representatives from PVA’s 34 chapters and the national office worked diligently over five days, discussing key issues facing veterans with disabilities.
Celebrating 70 years as the nation’s premier veterans’ service organization for veterans with spinal-cord injury and disease, PVA National President Al Kovach Jr., opened the convention by reflecting on the effort it took to begin PVA and the work it will take to continue its mission.
“Obviously, the hard work of those before us has paid off, evidenced by the quality of life we are enjoying today, and it’s the hard work of those of us in this room that will pay off for future members of PVA,” Kovach said. “While the external environment in which we operate remains filled with uncertainty, it’s PVA’s cast iron certainty of purpose that will allow us to navigate that environment and stand up for our members in a way that will make our forefathers proud of what they started at the Hines VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] 70 years ago.”
Following In Great Footsteps
It’s always important to honor the past during key milestones, but PVA made a little modern history during this year’s convention.
Sherman Gillums Jr., is no longer the acting executive director for PVA. Gillums had the acting portion of his title lifted and was confirmed as PVA’s executive director by the Board of Directors. The acting executive director since January, Gillums is PVA’s first executive director to have served during the post-9/11 era.
PVA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter Director Eduardo Oyola-Rivera checks out the Pendleton Whiskey table during the opening reception. Photo by PVA / Alex Quijano
His leadership — along with Kovach who served during the Gulf War era — marks the first time PVA has been led by veterans of eras after World War II and Vietnam.
“It’s an honor to lead an organization that did so much for me when I was newly paralyzed in 2002,” said Gillums. “I follow in the footsteps of some great men who moved Paralyzed Veterans of America forward, in some cases against tremendous odds.”
Helping veterans such as Gillums is the cornerstone of PVA, and issues regarding veterans’ well-being are always a key part of the annual convention.
Among the notable issues discussed at this year’s convention was the Veterans Choice Act program. Started in 2014, the program was created in response to numerous veterans who were denied timely access to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, either because of unreasonable distance or long wait times.
There have been many concerns about the program, which allows veterans to seek health care in the private sector outside the VA. Keynote speaker Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Fla.) pledged to make sure changes are made to the program.
Brown said the law required the VA to roll out the Choice program too quickly and promised to announce fixes on the House floor this summer.
Brown also was presented with a pilot study conducted by PVA on the concerns and needs of its female members. To learn more about that study and what’s being done to help women veterans, read Kovach’s columnSupport For Women Veterans in PVA From The Top on page 8.
Another big part of the annual convention is the election of national officers by the PVA Board of Directors.
Running unopposed and continuing for another year is, well, everyone. Kovach, Senior Vice President David Zurfluh, Treasurer Tom Wheaton and Secretary Larry Dodson were re-elected by acclamation.
However, the four vice president positions, even when running unopposed, require a ballot to be cast for the purpose of succession to the office of senior vice president in the event that Zurfluh would become unable to execute his duties.
Normally in situations such as this when the Board of Directors can vote for all four candidates, you’ll have someone who receives more votes than others. When all the votes were counted, there was still a four-way tie. Ken Weas, Hack Albertson, Joseph Fox Sr. and Charlie Brown all received the same number of votes. A decision on how to break the tie will be made in the future.
Closing out the week was a surprise announcement by Osamu “Simon” Nagata, executive vice president of Toyota Motor North America, who unveiled the comeback of the revolutionary stair-climbing iBOT wheelchair, developed by DEKA Research and Development in partnership with Toyota.
The next-generation iBOT, called the iBOT 2.0 prototype, allows users to “walk” up and down stairs using two sets of powered wheels that rotate. It also enables users to rise from a seated-level position to around 6-feet high and safely travel through a wider range of terrain, including rocky or uneven surfaces.
“The next generation of the iBot is much slimmer than its predecessor and offers 15 years of improvements in technology, which makes it a highly anticipated option for many Paralyzed Veterans of America members,” Gillums said.
See Ya’ Next Year
As the 70th Annual PVA Convention came to a close, thoughts and plans were already underway for next year’s event that will be close to the nation’s capital.
The 71st Annual Convention is set for May 16–20, 2017, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the banks of the Potomac River in National Harbor, Md., just under an hour south of Washington, D.C.
For more information on this year’s or next year’s convention, visit pva.org.
Brittany Ballenstedt, Tom Fjerstad and Andy Nemann contributed to this article.
Certainty Of Purpose
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