Paralyzed Veterans of America member Ernie Butler has made a career of lobbying to improve veterans benefits through his work with the national organization.
The former Air Force pararescueman is executive director of Paralyzed Veterans’ Northwest Chapter (NWPVA), representing Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana. He is a state and federal lobbyist who has been instrumental in passing various pieces of legislation.
Butler, 59, is the latest recipient of the Richard Fuller Outstanding Government Relations Award. The presentation was made August 17, 2013, at Paralyzed Veterans’ 67th Annual Convention.
“The award recognizes individuals or chapters who have done outstanding work on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America,” said Doug Vollmer, associate executive director of Government Relations.
Among notable accomplishments, Butler was the lead lobbyist in pushing for the Veterans Tuition Waiver Act, passed in the Washington State legislature in 2006. He also helped bring about passage of an exemption of use tax on adaptive vehicle equipment during the 2012–13 legislative session.
Butler acknowledged that such milestone victories do not happen easily. “It’s a slow process,” he said. “It’s not immediate gratification.
“I really enjoy the lobbying work,” he added. Government relations and advocacy departments “carry the load” for (Paralyzed Veterans), he said. “That excited me. It’s relationship building. I’ve been in sales and marketing my whole life. It’s just a different sell.”
Butler said he was surprised by the award and appreciated the nomination from his chapter. He noted, however, “Everyone works as a team. It’s always been a team approach.”
Other honors include being named as a finalist for the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award by the American Association of Disabled People in 2003 and receiving the 2004 Golden Tennis Shoe Award by U.S. Senator Patty Murray, which honors Washingtonians working to make the state a better place to “live, work, and raise families.”
Butler served in the Air Force from 1970–74. In 1995, injuries from a parachuting accident resulted in paraplegia at the T-12 level. The accident occurred while he participated with the U.S. Skydiving Team in southern France.
Butler previously resided in Washington with Vicki Lynn Butler, his wife of 20 years. They have one daughter. He recently was hired as director of Sports and Recreation for Paralyzed Veterans and made the move to Washington, D.C..
About the Award: A graduate of Duke University, Richard Fuller was a Vietnam War veteran with the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a linguist. A tireless advocate for veterans, Fuller was director of public affairs for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs from 1979 to 1981. He served on the Subcommittee on Education, Training and Employment and the Subcommittee on Hospitals and Healthcare. He joined Paralyzed Veterans’ national staff in 1987 and served as associate legislative director and eventually national legislative director. Fuller passed away in 2008. The award was established in 2009 to honor his years of service to Paralyzed Veterans and advocacy for veterans.
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s work on Capitol Hill
R. Sirvell Carter is a freelance writer, editor and researcher living in Huntsville, Alabama.