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Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News December 2016

Paralyzed Veterans of America's annual Mission: ABLE Awards

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“I am able.” That was the dominating phrase at this year’s Paralyzed Veterans of America Mission: ABLE Awards.

An annual tradition, the Mission: ABLE Awards honor exceptional individuals and organizations who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and painstakingly worked to create an America where veterans are able to access everything they need to live full and rewarding lives. 

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) welcomed approximately 425 guests to the Sept. 21 event at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C., including Washington dignitaries, distinguished service members, veterans, friends and supporters. The “Voice of the Washington Redskins” Larry Michael and Robert Molinatti served as co-emcees, and Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy, Director, Defense Health Agency, delivered the keynote address.

“What Paralyzed Veterans of America does with advocacy and research is powerful for our health care system for those who wear the uniform,” Bono said.

Bono was also on hand to see PVA’s latest powerful effort to help veterans.

I Am Able

Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy, Director, Defense Health Agency, was the keynote speaker. Photo PVA Staff.

The vice admiral and those in attendance saw the unveiling of the first public service announcement (PSA) in PVA’s new “I Am Able” campaign.

Officially launching next spring, the campaign focuses on the message that paralyzed veterans are able to fully and equally participate and contribute to society. The PSAs celebrate and depict stories of paralyzed veterans.

The inaugural PSA previewed at the event was called “I Am Able: To Make Dinner For My Wife.” Others focus on having career and dancing with a daughter at her wedding. The idea of the campaign and PSAs is to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about paralyzed veterans’ capabilities.  

Spearheaded by PVA Senior Director of Corporate and Venture Philanthropy Mindy Walker, the PSAs will be shared on the Mission: ABLE website ( when they’re launched, as well as distributed to TV and radio stations across the country. 

The Roof Of Africa

Another PSA in the “I Am Able” campaign will feature a PVA member who was recognized at the awards for his recent “mountain-sized” accomplishment.

Carlos Moleda was honored only days after summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. To be featured in the PSA called “I Am Able: To Climb Mount Kilimanjaro,” Moleda conquered the more-than 19,000-foot mountain on a custom-built handcycle
he made.

Reaching the top of one of the highest mountains in the world is just the latest accomplishment for the Navy veteran. Moleda won his fifth Ironman world championship in October 2015 at age 53 and has won numerous handcycling titles as part of the PVA Racing Team.

Lasting Impact

Moleda wasn’t the only person to be honored that evening, as PVA took time to thank the people, businesses and organizations that have worked hard to help veterans.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe accepted the Employ: ABLE Award for his state’s work to end veterans’ unemployment through the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Values Veterans Program (V3).

“I am honored to receive the Paralyzed Veterans of America Employ: ABLE Award in recognition of the Virginia Values Veterans Program,” McAuliffe said. “We are committed to making Virginia the best state in the nation for veterans, which is why we set a goal to recruit, train and hire 20,000 veterans by the end of our term. I am proud to say we are fewer than 2,000 veterans from our goal. I thank you for partnering with V3 through Paralyzed Veterans’ Paving Access for Veterans Employment program to help us reach this goal, and I hope we can continue to build on our success by placing 20,000 more veterans in permanent careers.”

This year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games Spirit of the Games winner Jeff DeLeon presented the Unstop: ABLE Award to retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Chris Cortez, Microsoft vice president of military affairs, for Microsoft’s Software and Systems Academy, which helps active duty U.S. service members develop career skills in the field of technology. 

A longtime PVA supporter, Roger Penske, founder and chairman of the Penske Corporation, was honored with the Humanitarian Award for his outstanding contributions to help support disabled veterans.

K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., President and CEO Steve Smith accepted the The Achieve: ABLE Award for his company’s leadership and financial support of paralyzed veterans, ensuring access to care, benefits and jobs. 

“We celebrate this year’s honorees and thank them and all of our supporters for their investment in and commitment to our mission,” said Al Kovach Jr., PVA’s national president. “One night a year, we come together to honor a select few for their tireless work to support disabled veterans, but their impact lasts long after the evening is over. These individuals and corporations are truly making a difference in the lives of so many veterans, and for that they should be applauded.”

The annual awards raised $631,000 from corporate supporters in advance of the event. The funds will help PVA’s programs and services, including benefits and employment assistance, and rehabilitative sport opportunities, all of which are provided free to veterans.

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