Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald speaks before members of PVA during their 69th Annual Convention. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary among many speakers during PVA Convention
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) wrapped up its 69th annual Convention in San Diego on May 9, 2015, with a commitment to ensure veterans of every era have access to the care, benefits and jobs they have earned and deserve.
The annual Convention gathers leaders and representatives from PVA’s 34 chapters and national organization to discuss major issues facing veterans with disabilities, including accessing quality health care, obtaining benefits and transitioning into a civilian job after military service.
"The national board of directors and executive leadership of Paralyzed Veterans of America have worked together all year to determine the organization's most viable course as we look ahead,” said Sherman Gillums, Jr., deputy executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Our programs are stronger than ever, and I've never seen a more collegial tone as we deliberate on confronting the challenges and uncertainties that impact our members, starting with access to quality healthcare and full benefits.”
The weeklong event formally kicked off on Tuesday, May 5, with an opening keynote by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, who used the platform to touch on critical topics, including the backlog, ending veterans’ homelessness, the VA Choice Program and improving the culture at VA to provide better experiences for veterans.
Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald delivers a "state of the VA" during PVA's 69th Annual Convention in San Diego, Calif. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio
McDonald also urged Congress to appropriate sufficient funding in the areas of construction, information technology and staff to meet the needs of an aging veteran population.
“In 40 years, we will have the same issues we have now,” McDonald said. “When Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get older, we’re not going to be there for them. You can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”
Coming out of the convention was a laundry list of targeted priorities for the coming year, at the top of which will be advocacy to ensure VA health care is fully funded. Other top priorities include expanding spinal cord injury/disease (SCI/D) long-term care options, advocating for Polytrauma and Traumatic Brain Injury care and research, and preserving Social Security benefits for veterans.
Paralyzed Veterans of America national and chapter leadership also will work together in the coming year to reach out to women and Native American veterans, reduce barriers to access for all persons with disabilities, and work towards finding a cure for SCI/D.
Meanwhile, a first-ever Convention forum co-sponsored with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation on May 7 also spotlighted the unique needs and challenges of caregivers who support disabled veterans. Ensuring pre-9/11 and post-9/11 caregivers are offered support, services and resources was among the top three priorities for advocacy marked at this year’s Convention.
The hope, Gillums said, is that Paralyzed Veterans of America will see progress on many of its goals before 2016, when it celebrates its 70th anniversary. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 1946, remains the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization that represents veterans with SCI/D.
“During the convention, we established a solid foundation that we'll build upon in the coming year,” Gillums said. “I anticipate reaching great milestones as we near our 70-year anniversary, and I intend to do my part to get us there."
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.