BALTIMORE — It’s been 75 years since Paralyzed Veterans of America was created. PVA started after World War II soldiers came home with spinal cord injuries and didn’t know how to face the challenges ahead.
There are PVA chapters all over the country helping veterans. The Colonial Chapter has been around for 50 years and helps those in Maryland, Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“There’s a lot now coming into PVA who are younger or newly injured or newly diagnosed and they struggle with their diagnosis and things they deal with on a daily basis,” said Matthew Peeling. He was a combat medic who was injured 35 years ago while on a civilian job and can no longer walk.
After his injury he disconnected from the military for a while. Then when he was 50 he got his bachelor and masters from American Military University. “That brought me back into the military community, which I found I really missed and when I finished PVA was the next step.”
He’s been involved in PVA for about four years now, dedicated to helping people like him. He’s now the President of the Colonial Chapter. He said, “I wanted to do some volunteer work that would pay back with things that I deal with on a daily basis and getting back involved with my fellow military veterans was a big part of that as well.”
Peeling helped create the mentorship program, to guide new members. He also helped create their HEART program, which stands for the Hoskins Education And Re-Employment Training Program.
“One of the things I was big on was getting back into the work force, not living off VA benefits. There’s more for these folks out there,” said Peeling.
The PVA is also big on their sports and recreation to get members as active as possible. They also have regular public outings like their annual Ocean City trip for members and caregivers.
“We are trying to get everybody out and doing things and being involved and having a friendship and a fellowship because we all had that fellowship in the military and we need to continue that… so it’s so important to get people out to let them know we value them that they’re part of the humanity of part of society,” said Ann Adair. Adair relies on a wheelchair after she was injured after a fall while on active duty for the Army Reserves. She’s been involved with PVA for about 22 years. For the last ten years, she’s been a member and on the board but she started off working with PVA as a nurse.
“PVA is the only veterans organizations that has a full time medical staff that goes to hospitals to spinal cord units especially to evaluate care and talk to patients,” said Adair.
Adair traveled all over the country evaluating VA Medical Centers and that’s how many members found PVA, when they went to the VA for help.
The ultimate goal of this organization is to make sure these injured veterans are taken care of have the things they need.
“It’s all about the members. The military in general has always had the attitude once you’re a member you’re in a brother and sisterhood. Always gonna be here for you and that’s something I’ve definitely experienced and that’s what PVA is all about too,” said Peeling.
The Colonial Chapter is currently working on a campaign called Roll Across Maryland where they visit different organizations throughout the state to help spread the word about who they are and get more people to join their family.
“We don’t call it chapter. We call it family,” said Jo Ann Bedsworth, the Executive Director of the PVA Colonial Chapter. She added, “we’re there for the members. We’re there for anybody that has a disability and we’re there for their caregivers and their families… we roll with you.”
To learn more about this chapter, click here.
PVA has been an a big part of helping laws pass to improve the quality of life for anyone with disabilities. The Air Carriers Access Act is one of them, to make air travel better for people in a wheelchair. The act made some improvements but PVA has been fighting for an Amendment. Charlie Brown, the President of PVA, said air travel is inhumane and dangerous.
Brown served as a US Marine and is now quadriplegic. He explained how you can’t stay in your wheelchair when you fly, you have to be transferred into an unstable aisle chair and then lifted into your seat. Many times the chair is damaged while it’s with the luggage or even worse, the person is hurt like he was in 2019.
“I was being transferred from my chair into the aisle chair and an in property trained crew dropped my legs, caused me to drop and hit my bottom on the jet way fractured my tail bone, I was in the hospital for over three months. I had an infection,” said Brown. He added, “it was dangerous I was close to death because of the infection how it was getting into my system.”
Brown explained how there’s no handicap restroom on a flight either so he typically dehydrates and starves himself before he has to fly anywhere. He wants accessible restrooms on planes, accessible aisle ways and for people to be able to stay in their own wheelchair like they do on a train or bus.
To help the Air Carries Access Amendment Act pass, click here.