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Meet The Candidates

Reprinted from PN April 2018

It’s time to elect PVA’s leadership, and these are the candidates seeking to help continue the organization’s mission of changing lives and building brighter futures.

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Leadership is a key asset  when it comes to helping lead the nation’s premier veterans service organization for those who’ve sustained the most catastrophic injuries. For more than 70 years, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has relied on talented leaders to help continue making life better for thousands of veterans and others with spinal-cord injury and disease (SCI/D). It’s that time of year again when PVA looks to elect those leaders. PVA’s national leadership will be decided at next month’s annual convention in Minneapolis, May 21–27 at the JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America. The PVA Board of Directors will elect the national president, national senior vice president, four national vice presidents, a treasurer and a secretary. The following are statements of individuals who, as of press time in early March, have declared their willingness to help lead PVA for the next year.

National President

David Zurfluh

It’s with great honor I announce my bid for re-election to the office of PVA national president. It’s my desire to remain an active and vital part of PVA’s national leadership. This desire is based on my personal belief that making the executive committee, national directors, chapters, members, staff and partners stakeholders in this organization will produce the free-flowing ideas and standards to make PVA stronger going forward. My first three months in office I noticed too many barriers and firewalls within our organization stifling the energy to make free-flowing ideas and collaboration excel in PVA. Working with the executive committee and staff during the next three months, we implemented changes to remove those barriers and bring better synergy to our organization. If re-elected, I will continue to analyze our organization’s deficiencies where they exist and ways to improve them going forward. Our departments and programs benefit our members greatly, but some play a huge role in our members’ lives. Fundraising is the engine that drives our programs and is currently being evaluated by an outside agency to find ways to improve it going forward. If re-elected, I will work with staff to implement any discovered improvements that are vetted and decided by our collective leadership.

Having medical services rolled back under the veterans benefits department is critical for our members. Without our national service officers and spinal-cord injury (SCI) site visit teams securing benefits, finding deficiencies and recommending improvements in SCI units and clinics, our members’ lives would suffer greatly. Staff and I will work to evaluate the changes and strengthen the restructuring of this department. Government relations/advocacy is always working on critical issues to improve members’ lives, but three critical issues are affecting our members now and will be for the year ahead: nurse staffing for specialized services; the Air Carrier Access Act; and the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act). The staff and I will be working to message and advocate our position on these topics. The sports department is critical to giving our members opportunities to get back in a competitive and social environment. Besides the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the staff and I will be looking at how to diversify and create opportunities for all levels of ability within the budget.

Like past leaders before, finding ways to bring the next generation into the fold will be a task we will need to implement. The Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom generation will be the next to lead PVA, and we will be tasked to transition them into leadership roles when and where we can. As an aircraft maintenance man in the Air Force, I was always evaluating and troubleshooting aircraft to make them operational and mission-ready. If re-elected president, I will do what is right to make PVA better. I have always lived by the motto, “Leave a place better when you are done than when you started.”

If you give me the opportunity, I will do just that. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

 

Senior Vice President

Ken Weas

Please accept my request for your consideration and support for my re-election as your senior vice president to continue to serve on PVA’s Executive Committee. I was first elected vice president in 2001 and served on the executive committee from 2003 until June 2006, and again from 2010 to the present. During these years, my experiences have been obtained from working with six presidents and six senior vice presidents, as well as other executive committee members. I’m offering you a leadership style that is assertive, hands-on and requires the ability and willingness to identify and maximize PVA’s internal and external resources (both personnel and material) to accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives. It’s a style where obtaining input of information and data by listening and researching from multiple sources is used in making decisions, and very importantly, working alongside the entire executive committee and national staff to ensure it’s a “team” effort.   

My PVA history began when I first joined the Central Florida chapter (CFPVA) in 1995 and served as its vice president and hospital liaison program director until 2000, when I moved to Phoenix. As a member of the Arizona chapter, I served as its hospital liaison program director. In 2006, I returned to Florida and rejoined the CFPVA, reassuming the positions of chapter hospital liaison, outreach director and was elected their national director. Also, during my 13 years serving as one of your vice presidents, I’ve had the honor and opportunity to serve as the chairman of the field advisory committee (FAC) under the presidencies of Joseph L. Fox Sr., Randy L. Pleva Sr., Bill Lawson and Al Kovach Jr. Prior to being elected to the executive committee, I served five years as a member on the FAC. These combined years have truly provided me with an extensive education and knowledge of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) specialized services and the skills to ensure that PVA monitors and enforces the SCI/D health care and programs, as well as making sure our membership receives their entitlements and benefits as promised. This will always be one of my highest priorities, and I will lead the fight to ensure we have the best quality health care to extend our quality of life. As the executive committee begins to review and implement the executive director’s strategic planning session, National President David Zurfluh has assigned me to lead the evaluation of our current chapter model. The executive committee has worked closely in the development of an ad hoc committee to begin this evaluation. I’ll assure you that as the current chairman, we will continue to be totally committed to ensure that working with the 33 national directors, the executive committee (specifically, the four vice presidents) and national staff, we will provide the chapters with the necessary education, training, support and resources through a team approach. If a chapter is in need of oversight, involvement and supervision of its daily operations and maintenance to provide the eight mandated programs and services to its membership, it will be done in an efficient, effective and timely manner.

The goal and final result for our involvement is that it maximizes the improvement of the chapter for its members. They are the roots of PVA and without them, we wouldn’t be here or continue to exist to provide the services, programs, benefits and entitlements of our membership. If I’m elected, I’ll promise to continue to represent and dedicate myself and my efforts toward making sound decisions and complete, concise actions that will contribute to ensuring positive, improved results for what is best for the entire PVA membership.

Thank you for your consideration. 


Vice President

Hack Albertson

I’m Hack Albertson, a United States Marine Corps paralyzed veteran, and I’m asking to be elected to the office of PVA national vice president. I want to thank you for the honor of representing you as your PVA national vice president for the last three years. This is a very exciting period for PVA, as we make changes to improve our organization to serve veterans better and ensure our financial future. The executive committee and our national staff have been an amazing team to work with to complete our mission this year. I serve as chairman of the resolution committee, vice president of administration in charge of our PVA governing documents and on the ad hoc committee for the film festival. I have served on the field advisory committee and am a past chairman of the spouses and caregivers committee and past chairman of the awards committee. I also participate in the finance and budget committees. It has been an extreme honor to be the vice president liaison for the Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Oregon, Mountain States and Cal-Diego PVA chapters. I’m a past liaison for the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan chapters.

I take my responsibility very seriously of being a resource as your liaison vice president to the PVA chapters. I want all of the chapters to succeed in our mission, and I’m here 24/7 to assist in any way needed. I will have visited all eight of my liaison chapters of responsibility by the end of my June 30 term. This is done to ensure our governing documents are being followed and all veterans and mandated programs are being served as intended. I believe in continuous training and education to create improvement and communication. I encourage all of you to insist on the training and participate to help PVA stay focused on our mission. PVA only exists because of each of you as volunteers at your PVA chapter. Your grassroots efforts of advocacy and finding veterans to help them with their benefits is what makes our organization strong. It truly changes lives and builds futures when we all work to serve veterans as intended and help them to recover from the catastrophic injuries we’re all blessed with that make us eligible to be PVA members.

Our veterans benefits department and medical services department are so important to all veterans to guarantee they get the health care and benefits they deserve. Our PVA magazines and sports programs are an amazing inspiration and help so much in getting veterans out of the house and on the road to a full life. Our mission is possible due to our team in development as they find donors who believe in us. PVA is strong due to our veteran volunteers and chapter members, and they make us the very best veterans service organization. I want to thank you all for your continued service.  

Charles Brown

It’s my pleasure to announce my candidacy for the office of PVA national vice president for the 2019 fiscal year. The past year started differently from others, as I had just been released from the hospital. But I can assure you that it didn’t prevent me from doing my job. While I did slow down on travel around the country early on, I continued to look for opportunities to do better work from home. I have been a member of PVA for more than 31 years. I have served in many roles at the chapter level, including president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, hospital liaison and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. I have been a PVA national vice president since first being elected in 2012. There are many facets to the office of vice president. One is being a liaison to the chapters and this past year, I have worked diligently to help those chapters with the most need while guiding the others with gentle encouragement, offering advice when needed and letting the chapters work to their best ability. Another facet is to be a chairman of a committee. The committee I currently chair is the field advisory committee. We meet face-to-face twice a year and by teleconference twice a year. Recently, we determined that a more consistent line of communication needs to be implemented.

Working with the associate executive director of the PVA Veterans Benefits Department, we have started a monthly email where we continually update all field advisory committee members of site visits, changes in VA regulations, chapter hospital liaison reports and other information that we believe needs to be discussed. I believe this new effort will help strengthen the committee and allow everyone to be able to assist our members and veterans throughout the community. The next facet is to oversee the operations of the national organization in between board meetings. While no facet of our duties is more important than another, I believe this is the most crucial to the overall success of our organization.This past year we have taken on difficult issues, and I believe we’ve conquered them with great success. It’s never easy to make decisions that could change the course of an organization, but the executive committee looked upon the strength of each other’s talents and made the best decisions possible. As we continue into the future, I’m confident that the leadership of PVA will work diligently to ensure success for generations to come. 

I know there are difficult times ahead for our organization, but I fully believe we owe it to our members to fight harder and louder for improved health care and benefits and to provide them with more opportunities for employment. I hope that I have demonstrated to each of you my willingness to work and desire to serve our members and veterans in need. I ask that as you read this, you still consider me a valued member of PVA and a national vice president. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Tammy Jones

I would like to thank everyone who came up to me after last year’s elections and encouraged me to continue my bid for one of PVA’s national vice president positions. I’m asking for your support in my run to join the team of PVA national vice presidents. I’m an Air Force veteran and have been living with my SCI for more than 31 years. In 1986, at age 19, I had an automobile accident in which I sustained a C5/6 SCI. My rehabilitation was initially at Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injury Center in England and continued at the James A. Haley SCI Center in Tampa, Fla. My husband Dale, aka “Mr. Tammy,” is a former Marine, and we’ve been married 18 years and believe in living each day to the best possible.

My experience developed by serving on the boards of three very good PVA chapters, including Florida Gulf Coast, Cal-Diego and Texas. I served as secretary with Florida Gulf Coast and Cal-Diego and currently hold the position of vice president with the Texas chapter. I’ve also served three years on the chapter’s field advisory committee and planned giving committee. I’ve gained through these positions a tremendous amount of experience and a desire to share this knowledge with the PVA Executive Committee and the PVA Board of Directors. The wide variety of viewpoints among the boards and committee positions I’ve served on has allowed me to develop better communication and problem-solving skills with an array of different perspectives.

Now is the time to reach out and embrace our diversity. An executive committee that truly reflects the membership will be an added benefit to the perception of PVA, to our donors, sponsors and members. As an organization, I believe we need to work with our chapters and help them get in touch with their membership, to find ways to develop new leaders and fundraising opportunities, communicate with and listen to our chapter leadership to learn how best to help the chapters grow and develop. If you have a member who enjoys being online, see if he or she is interested in starting the chapter’s social media presence. Chapter leadership would develop the parameters of the social media presence of which he or she would follow. Once a chapter has a social media presence for communications, member involvement can progress to chapter leadership. Encouraging members to come and be the voice for their chapter, they may have a specialty or knowledge that would be of benefit to the chapter and its programs. Also, recognize that women and men can look at the same situation and have two different ways of achieving the same end game. When it comes to fundraising and membership development, thinking outside the box is key. An Operation Eternal Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom era veteran has insight to a younger population. Those veterans can help us understand how to reach out to that group for either membership or fundraising opportunities. The strength of the chapters is the membership; the strength of the organization is the chapters. Together, we are PVA.

In closing, I’m asking our women veterans, our Operation Eternal Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom era members, all members, roll on up. Check in with your local chapter, find a committee or a position that you have experience in or would like to learn more about. We all have different experiences in life that when brought together can take us forward with a renewed ferocity. Together, we will move our organization forward with PVA PRIDE — Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Enthusiasm! I would appreciate your vote for PVA national vice president.

Todd Kemery

My name is Todd Kemery, and I’m asking for your support in my bid to serve you as a PVA national vice president. Currently, I’m the PVA Minnesota Chapter vice president and a peer mentor at the Minneapolis VA. In 1982, while stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Tustin in California, I sustained a C5/6 level SCI during a surf-related accident. My life was instantly changed. My accident was one day before my 22nd birthday and 10 days before my discharge from the Marine Corps. I did my SCI rehab at McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. I have been with the PVA Minnesota Chapter for 16 years, and I started as sports director. At the time, I played quad rugby and wheelchair softball, so it was a natural fit for me to accept the sports director position. For the next 12 years, I had the responsibility to encourage others to stay active. Finding new opportunities and getting our members to try something different like curling, skiing or ice fishing was rewarding. Similarly, I enjoyed promoting the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) to potential novices and encouraging our members to compete at the NVWG. Watching our Minnesota team consistently grow from 10 to 12 to 20 and eventually to 25 participants was satisfying. Whereas wheelchair sports changed my life, working in advocacy and legislation gave me the confidence on how effective I could be. For the past 14 years, I’ve been part of our advocacy and legislation team. For the past eight years, I’ve been the ADA coordinator for our chapter.

I’ve been attending PVA’s Advocacy and Legislative Training Seminar since 2003. From that training, I helped develop our local advocacy/legislative responsibilities. My start in local advocacy was in 2006 when PVA Minnesota was invited by the Minnesota Council on Disability to be on the first Minnesota Stadium Accessibility Advisory Committee. I’m presently representing PVA on my fifth stadium advisory committee. Accessibility in parks and trails is another positive outcome that we’ve had locally. I have been the only wheelchair user in a room full of people who were against accessibility plans for a regional park. They said asphalt trails would detract from their wilderness experience. After spending a year on a citizens’ park committee, consensus was reached and now there are 8 miles of accessible trails with an additional 5 miles of paved access routes that connect all the ADA-compliant areas within that park. I’ve given testimony before city and county commissioners and testified before our state legislators on the need for accessibility in our parks and greenways. Because of those efforts, I was asked to serve on the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission (MPOSC). I’m in my third year as commissioner and MPOSC vice chair. Our legislative efforts have been equally rewarding. Three years ago, I was approached by a grassroots organization that wanted our help in getting Minnesota to create a budget for SCI and traumatic brain injury research. The research money would stay in Minnesota. Today, Minnesota has a $1 million research budget. Currently, I help represent our chapter on two veterans’ legislative committees, the Commanders Task Force and the United Veterans Legislative Council. Both work for Minnesota veterans’ issues. One of the highlights of my time with PVA was being recognized for my work. I’m the 2015 recipient of the Cliff Crase Award for Professionalism. I’ve enjoyed my time working on behalf of our Minnesota chapter, and I would like to bring what I have learned and apply that as a national vice president.

Robert L. Thomas Jr.


It’s my pleasure to announce that I’m once again seeking the office of PVA national vice president. I was extremely honored to have been elected at last year’s annual convention in National Harbor, Md., and to see the confidence that the national board of directors has bestowed in me. I have been working hard to maintain and hopefully grow that confidence. Over the past year, I have been assigned as the chairman of the spouses and awards committee. I worked with members of the spouses committee and key staff to organize events for the group at the fall directors meeting, and I’m currently discussing ideas for May’s annual convention. The awards committee has worked to meet its deadline in getting memos out notifying chapters of the open nomination period for several awards. It was a pleasure to announce the recipients of the Speedy Award. I wish to thank all the committee members and staff who have given their time and talents in helping PVA continue serving its members and veterans across the nation. The executive committee was faced with the adversity of losing key members of the office staff during the beginning of the second quarter of the fiscal year. In addition, we were also faced with hurricanes that caused severe damage around Houston and Florida and devastated Puerto Rico. However, through the cohesiveness of the executive committee, we were able to discuss and devise a plan to fill these voids temporarily and provide the assistance so desperately needed from those natural disasters. 

One area where I would like to express my concern is the silos that have been built between the chapters and the national organization. It seems there’s a misconception that the national organization is trying to take over or even close down chapters. We, the executive committee, would like to dispel that thought by assuring you that we are a point of resource and understand that all chapters don’t function exactly the same. However, if they all adhere to the core values, we will have that one PVA voice.

If re-elected, I will continue to work with the executive committee in seeking a solution to this problem. I believe one way our organization can achieve this is through transparency. If we continue to remain transparent in our decision-making process, it would become even more evident that we are focused on the mission and future. Thank you again for having confidence in me, and I promise to continue giving you my best efforts. 

Secretary

Larry Dodson

I’m Larry Dodson, current PVA national secretary, and this is my notice of intent to seek re-election for fiscal year 2019. I’ve served with pleasure as PVA’s national secretary since 2012, and I would welcome the opportunity to build upon the progress and work I’ve accomplished in the last five years.  With the help of my fellow officers, and all of the members of PVA leadership and staff, I have tried to serve our mission with integrity and distinction. I ask you now to consider letting me continue that service. As a member of the executive committee, the national secretary is an integral part of a synergistic decision-making team that assists PVA, the chapters, our members and all veterans to achieve a healthy, productive future. It’s also a multifaceted position that requires an eye for detail and thorough approach to data. I believe my background in accounting has served me well in this position, as I’ve methodically worked through the production process of recording, transcribing and publishing our minutes to ensure record accuracy and integrity. The linear approach that must be taken in accounting ledgers, I’ve also applied to each set of meeting data. It has greatly diminished the margin of error and given our organization accurate and reliable records for future generations of PVA leaders. This is something for which I take great care and great pride.

For instance, all requirements are equally important, but the one that requires the most time and attention to detail is our minutes. This entails the recording, editing and timely publishing of accurate minutes of our executive committee, board of directors and convention meetings. These documents contain the historical records of PVA and the decisions made by its governing body. I work through them quickly, but carefully, and ensure they are reviewed by all those who appear in that set of minutes, whether that’s the executive committee or the many program directors who contribute. My years of accounting experience have also enabled me to act as a resource for the finance and budget committee. National Treasurer Tom Wheaton has extended me the privilege of being the first national secretary to serve on this committee. This experience has given perspective and unity of purpose in my overall duties as national secretary. As a matter of protocol, the national secretary also serves as a member of the resolutions committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing all proposed resolutions prior to submission to the executive committee and the board of directors. When a resolution is acted upon, the committee assures that the changes are consistent in all PVA governing documents. Occasionally, the PVA national president will ask an executive committee member to chair an ad hoc committee. I have received this presidential honor, and I’m proud of the trust it shows on behalf of our leaders.

In my tenure, I’ve also worked to ensure the best business practices available are in place and being utilized, so all processes of my office are as expedient, efficient and effective as possible. I’ve particularly focused on the certification of members and officers for the organization. During my tenure, and with support of the PVA Board of Directors, this process has become more expeditious, less costly and offers more confidentiality in the handling of our members’ sensitive information. I worked closely with former National Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr., and the national staff to digitize membership records and archives to ensure these records are maintained securely and more easily accessed. This is an ongoing effort that I hope to see completed in 2018. In the end, for whomever PVA elects as the next national secretary, the important thing is that person be dedicated to this organization’s success and that our members are of utmost concern. I truly believe I’m that person and, if re-elected, it would be my honor to continue serving our organization in its mission for our nation’s veterans. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Treasurer

Tom Wheaton

Serving on PVA’s Executive Committee is a privilege, particularly as national treasurer. I’ve been profoundly grateful for being entrusted in this position the last few years and request to continue for the 2019 fiscal year. It has now been 30 years since I was injured with a broken neck at the C6/7 level in the Navy in Australia during Western Pacific duty on a brand new ship called the USS Fort McHenry. PVA was there for me once I was brought back to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center in 1988. Serving with other leaders at the chapter and national level has greatly enhanced my life, and it’s truly an honor to come together in wise decision-making on behalf of all veterans, the disabled community at-large and all who support our mission, including our members and their families. We have been in a state of recalibration as an organization as of late, which has allowed our leaders to discern what is best and what to expect out of ourselves as we progress forth. Our ideals include advocating for quality health care anywhere within our country, specifically within the SCI system of care within the VA.

This network of support has come about from a true partnership between PVA and VA for many decades. This year, we expect to have every major region covered as a new 30-bed SCI/D unit will be operational within the Denver VA Medical Center, serving the underserved Rocky Mountain region of our country, where thousands of our members reside. Like the other 24 units, this facility will be visited by our team of experts, who will diplomatically communicate and effectively monitor the quality of care our members receive. Simply put, we keep the VA accountable to their own established mandates for funding and delivering superior health care which meet the needs of our nation’s paralyzed heroes. We also will guide health care professionals during the annual PVA Summit + Expo, a tremendous event which allows for continuing education credits and interaction with other clinicians from around the country. We’ll continue to provide updates to our stellar clinical practice guidelines and celebrate 30 years of supporting research at Yale University and other projects that our foundations deem vital to developing an eventual cure for paralysis and also enhancing our lives until that day comes.

Whether it’s showcasing our many sports and recreation programs through our publications’ efforts, expressing our views on legislation or how the entire world population of those with disabilities have benefited from our 72-year toil, we will go into new territories of communication to tout all of the things we do to support our members and their families. Adequately funding all of these priorities is of paramount concern to me. It takes many teams of leaders to decide what’s best in maximizing our resources. We invest in a professional staff and chapter leaders to do so much every hour of every day because they have the heart to serve those who need our support. PVA will be better positioned financially to accomplish this through improving upon existing fundraising vehicles and by new streams of giving. The continuing opportunity to serve alongside so many dedicated leaders would be an honor, and it’s a thrill to support our members and their families from the day of injury until we honor their lives after they’ve passed on. We are there for them in every season of life, doing our part to ensure that they aren’t forgotten, alone or isolated. We encourage them to live fulfilling lives. I thank you for your consideration.

 

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