Still Struggling

Richard Hoover, Editor
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2016

The theme of what I've been writing about is the struggle that we're engaged in to make things easier for ourselves and those who follow us.

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As we approach the fall, I reflect on May’s Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) 70th Annual Convention in Jacksonville, Fla.

PVA Publications Deputy Editor Tom Fjerstad and I were in front of the convention attendees on the dais. While Tom was giving his portion of the report PVA Publications gives to the PVA Board of Directors (BOD), I took time to watch the attendees’ reactions to his words.  

One of the things I noticed was the significant change that had taken place in the makeup of the BOD. Of the several things I saw as I sat there, most were good, but there were noticeably some not-so-good things.  

The good was that there were more women directors, the number of people who were working professionals had increased, technology had increased with all the members using computers and almost all the directors came well prepared and asked questions, which showed they had read the material sent to them. There were many other good things, too much to cover here. 

Sadly, the not-so-good things were things such as the loss of PVA chapters such as Mexico, Capitol Area, Alabama-Mississippi and several others. The most significant thing, however, was the age of a lot of our directors. While some directors were veterans of the conflict in the Middle East, most were still from the Vietnam era, which raised the following concerns. 

In this issue of PN, Editorial Coordinator John Groth writes a compelling article titled Change In Care (p. 25). In the article, John writes about the interviews he had with some of the significant people in PVA’s past.

The selection of those special PVA members was the result of their appearance in a May 1970 Life magazine story that PVA National President Al Kovach Jr., used in his testimony before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  

In part of his testimony, the president spoke about how much things had remained the same and hadn’t changed in the care of paralyzed veterans. It was striking to look at the PVA BOD and see the directors from different eras and to remember the PVA chapters that had been but were no longer with us and to realize we’re fighting some of the same battles we fought before. 

The most significant was, and still is, spinal-cord injured veterans’ health care. There used to be and still is insufficient staffing. There used to be and still is insufficient funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). There used to be and still is no reliable program of home health care. There used to be and still is a shortage of long-term care beds for aged veterans. There used to be and still is a problem in access to airlines’ aircraft. I could go on and on. 

The theme of what I’ve been writing about is the struggle that we’re engaged in to make things easier for ourselves and those who follow us. Although we have made some significant accomplishments, they’re not enough, and many of things that remain are still the same ones veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East are still battling over with Congress and the VA.

There’s a series of four books by Thomas Miller titled The Praeger Handbook of Veterans’ Health: History, Challenges, Issues, and Developments. This set of books is invaluable for anyone who’s involved in advocating for veterans. It provides a history of veterans’ health care and offers insight into future directions for it.

What’s especially important is it provides insight into the programs of care the VA has for veterans who have special needs. Much of it isn’t pretty.

With Congress currently looking at how the VA operates, a detailed knowledge of the VA plan for special veterans such as amputees, blind, paralyzed, etc., is important. If you’re an advocate in this area, I urge you to get a set of these books. Knowledge of how the VA operates will help you avoid fighting the same battles.

On another note, we lost another paralyzed veteran who has a significant history with PVA. Gerard (Jerry) Kelly, a member of the former Eastern PVA Chapter, passed away in June. Jerry was a fine man. He made a memorable contribution to our organization.  

And, life goes on.


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