The forming of Paralyzed Veterans of America
Next month is the 75th anniversary of the official forming of the national organization we know today as the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
Representatives from groups formed at various paraplegic centers across the nation came together on Feb. 9, 1947, at the Hines Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in Chicago to discuss forming a national organization that would eventually become PVA.
However, that story actually starts more than a year earlier. It was December 1945 in the paraplegic ward at the Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif., when the idea of creating an organization started to unfold.
Before then, the men in the ward unofficially met to discuss concerns about their care and a multitude of other issues. A group representative then met with hospital leadership to share those concerns.
While this process produced some positive results, the men soon realized they needed something more. Discussions ensued, and it was decided they needed to create a formal organization to focus on the needs of all veterans with spinal-cord injury and disease across the country.
The concept was discussed in January 1946 with Army Capt. Ernest Bors, MD, who was in charge of the men’s care. Bors sent a memo to the facility’s commanding officer on Jan. 23 requesting permission on behalf of the men to form an organization.
“On Friday 18 January 1946, 70 paraplegic patients attended a mass meeting at the Recreation Hall of the Red Cross, at which time they decided to found the nucleus of an organization to safeguard the interests of all paraplegic patients in the nation,” the first paragraph of Bors’ memo read.
Remember, this was an Army hospital, and you didn’t do anything of this magnitude without the commanding officer’s permission. During a Jan. 25, 1946, meeting with the group, Bors reported that the commanding officer was in favor of the plan.
The new organization then sent correspondence to the other paraplegic centers across the nation to encourage them to form organizations in their hospitals. In the following months, groups formed at the Kennedy Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.; the Hines Hospital in Chicago; the McGuire Hospital in Richmond, Va.; the Bronx, St. Albans and Halloran hospitals in New York; and Cushing Hospital outside of Boston.
Meanwhile, at the Bronx Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital, a patient on the paraplegic ward named John Price was working hand-in-hand with the hospital to create a publication — Paraplegia News — for the benefit of paraplegic patients in the United States and Canada.
The first issue of what would later become PN was published in July 1946, and it encouraged the Bronx patients to form their own organization. The next issue encouraged patients at all the paraplegic centers to form their own organizations and expressed the hope for the eventual formation of a national group.
Later that year, a man named Gilford Moss, secretary of the newly formed organization at the Hines VA, who also happened to be an attorney, drafted bylaws and sent a letter to each of the organizations across the country to invite them to a meeting in Chicago to be held in February 1947 for the purpose of forming a true national organization.
Next month, my column will delve into that meeting and some of the important decisions that were made.