PVA President talks about finding a cause.
By David Zerfluh
For the last two years, I’ve had the honor of testifying before Congress and advocating on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) chapter representatives from around the country in March. This year will be no different.
People often ask, email or call me about how they can get involved if they don’t go to Washington, D.C., during the annual PVA Advocacy and Legislation Training Seminar or can’t make it to chapter meetings in their area. I respond to these questions by telling them the story of my friend Tom McTevia from northern Idaho.
Tom was born in California but was a lifelong resident of Idaho. He served a stint in the Navy and after being discharged honorably, he went to work for the Orofino Police Department in Idaho. Tom was an avid outdoorsman and became a paraplegic after being hurt in a 2004 all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident.
After rehab in the Seattle Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s spinal-cord injury unit and settling back in Idaho, Tom wanted to serve and help veterans with disabilities any way he could. There was one setback, though. He lived too far from the PVA Northwest Chapter in the Seattle area to serve on a regular basis.
Tom started to lose interest, but when he took up handcycling, fate brought him back. He took his handcycle to a local trail, only to find it wasn’t accessible in many spots. So, Tom called the chapter to find out if it could help him.
Someone from the chapter asked if Tom would be willing to advocate. He agreed, and working together, they devised a plan and points of contact so Tom could enlighten people to the concerns and needs of people with disabilities in northern Idaho.
Tom attended town, city and county meetings to advocate for access to the Coeur d’Alene bike trail in Idaho. Tom reported the progress of these meetings by phone and email at chapter meetings for two to three years. His efforts led to the trail being more accessible for all — and he didn’t stop there.
Tom set his advocacy targets to hiking trails and viewpoints throughout the state. Through his advocacy, he got government agencies to install Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant incline paved trails leading to back country areas and scenic viewpoints.
Sadly, in 2015, Tom and his friend, Tina Hoisington, plunged from a vista in an ATV and fell 500 feet to their deaths. However, Tom’s advocacy will provide access to generations of people with disabilities for decades to come. He has also changed the way leaders and people in northern Idaho look at veterans and citizens with disabilities.
If you’re someone who thinks you live too far away from a chapter or can’t make a difference — think again. You can make a difference just like Tom! Find a cause or legislation you can get behind and contact a chapter for help in your area.
When you have figured out your cause, work with the chapter and others to devise your plan and start your advocacy in motion. Find a communication platform to report your progress and make something happen, big or small, and pay it forward for the next generation.
Washington, D.C., is an amazing place to advocate, but you can make a difference anywhere in the country, or the world, just like Tom did. n