A Community of Care

Reprinted from PN November 2016

Networking, robots and the importance of VA spinal-cord injury/disease care were all part of this year's annual PVA Summit + Expo

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It was fitting the 2016 Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Summit + Expo was held in Orlando, Fla., just minutes from two theme parks, Disney World and SeaWorld, where families go to spend time together.

That feeling of family and team effort resonated as clinicians, researchers, psychologists, caregivers, social workers and more from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and private institutions across the country gathered Aug. 30–Sept. 1 for the sixth annual conference. 

The three-day conference was packed with more than 50 plenary and breakout sessions designed to explain new research studies and share best practices across multiple disciplines, as well as showcase technology for people with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D). 

Lana McKenzie was presented with the first Homer S. Townsend Jr. Excellence in Professional Advocacy Award. Photo by Brittany Martin.

The summit is an opportunity for clinicians to hear about PVA leaders’ priorities and earn continuing education credits, but it’s also a time to focus on their shared goal: providing the best care possible for those with SCI/D. To attendees, patients become much more than a job. They become family.


A record 840 attendees heard presentations on topics dealing with current innovations and how to address the issues people with SCI/D, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder face on a daily basis. 

For first-time attendee Candice Belcourt, a recreational therapist at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Wash., the summit gives her a way to connect to veteran patients, who are huge advocates in her profession. Belcourt believes the biggest issue facing people with SCI/D is lack of trained personnel.

“[There is a] lack of awareness for non-SCI-specific medical personnel, so in turn their [veterans’] care is delayed because of lack of trained individuals and access to those. And overall the insurance issue is a common theme across the board,” Belcourt says.

Lana McKenzie, PVA’s associate executive director of medical services, health policy and research, says that type of training is especially important for veterans with multiple sclerosis (MS), and the summit helps improve their care.  

“Our members with MS have similar symptoms like a spinal-cord patient has when they begin the loss of use of bowel and bladder and mobility, and there isn’t a better group of experts who can handle this type of need better than spinal-cord injury clinicians,” McKenzie says. “We thought the best thing to do was to marry two subset specialties by promoting education and networking. That’s why our summit offers something no other conferences have done.”


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