PVA From The Top: Nita’s Story

Nita dedicated the her life to helping veterans and those with disabilities

 

I feel compelled each November to highlight a veteran, and this year is no exception. 

I have chosen Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) first female veteran member, Anita Bloom (she preferred to be called Nita). 

I recently finished her autobiography, Beyond Dancing: A Veteran’s Struggle — A Woman’s Triumph, and researched several interviews she did in the past. I am amazed at the hardships this woman endured and her relentless spirit.

Prior to her enlistment into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1943, Nita was a young Jewish American who wanted to end Adolf Hitler and the Nazis’ reign of terror, like all Americans at the time.

Anita “Rita” Bloom in an undated photo.

Nita spent basic training in Georgia, followed by more training in Texas, where she endured anti-Semitism from Army and medical staff.

An unsanitary procedure to her injured right thumb caused an infection in her body that settled in her spinal cord, leading to surgery and a spinal-cord injury (SCI) in her thoracic region.

After being bounced around among civilian hospitals, Nita was transferred to the Bronx VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) for care and rehabilitation. At first, she was separated from the male SCI veterans, but soon she became one of the gang and was included in all SCI care, rehab and social events.

During two to three years of rehab at the Bronx VA, she bonded with many of PVA’s future leaders and was part of a group who tried new technologies for the first time. She was the only female in the test group. These group programs included learning to walk in leg braces using crutches.

 

She was part of a group who learned to use car hand controls and went from using rigid, wooden wheelchairs to folding, metal chairs. 

Nita was also part of a VA demonstration group at events around the country, the largest being a show at Madison Square Garden.

Nita was especially remembered for her heartfelt dedication to console high-level quads when they faced death because of severe injuries and lack of medical knowledge to treat them in the 1940s.

Upon release from rehab, Nita wasn’t recognized as a veteran because the government didn’t consider the WAAC part of the Army. 

Between trying to finish school, getting married, starting a family and career, Nita battled the government for eight years, testifying before Congress that women who served in the WAAC should be considered veterans and receive the same benefits other veterans earned while fighting for their country.

PVA and Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA) leadership supported Nita during her eight-year fight for recognition. Most notably, Robert Moss and Bernard Shufelt, national presidents from 1947 to 1950, were champions for her cause. 

On her flights from New York to Washington, D.C., Nita experienced many of the same fears and poor travel experiences that we still endure today.

She wrote in her book (p. 245) that after her first flight: “Half an hour later, two men came for me. ‘Miss. We’re going to carry you down the steps.’ How nice, I’m going to get off the plane at last. ‘I would appreciate that very much.’ They carried me off the plane like a sack of potatoes. Someday, I promised myself, I would give lessons on how to carry a wheelchair-bound individual from a plane.”

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On Aug. 11, 1954, the Senate passed HR 8041, giving WAAC members veteran status. Eleven days later at 3:40 p.m., then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill, making it official. Anita Bloom Ornoff was officially a paralyzed veteran with full benefits.

Nita dedicated the rest of her 86-year life to helping veterans and those with disabilities. On Feb. 13, 2008, we lost a true patriot and champion of veterans’ causes. 

To find out more about Anita Bloom Ornoff, search for her online, or read her autobiographical book, Beyond Dancing: A Veteran’s Struggle — A Woman’s Triumph, available on Amazon.

 

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