Paralyzed Veterans of America Leaders
Since our founding, generation after generation of Paralyzed Veterans of America's leaders have worked to improve the quality of life for veterans and all people living with spinal cord injury and disease. Listed below is Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Executive Director and Executive Committee for 2016-17. All members of the executive committee are members of Paralyzed Veterans and were elected by Paralyzed Veterans' membership. Click here to see a list of the Board of Directors.
Al Kovach, Jr., of Coronado, CA, was re-elected national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention, held in May 2016.
A member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, Kovach broke his neck in a parachuting accident in 1991. Kovach has served at the highest levels of leadership within the organization since 2007. He began service to the organization in 1991, at the chapter level as government relations director for the Cal-Diego Chapter in San Diego, and has since served on its board of directors.
Kovach has been a two-time winner of the LA Marathon, a participant of the 1996 Paralympic Games, and completed a 3,700-mile transcontinental triathlon. He was selected as San Diego Hall of Champions’ Disabled Athlete of the Year in 1999. He was honored by KPBS in San Diego as a “Local Hero” in October 2013, during “Disability Awareness Month.”
In 2015, Kovach received the “Breaking Away Award of Excellence” from KUSI News and Torrey Pines Bank, in recognition of his commitment for improving the quality of life for veterans and all people living with spinal cord injury or disease.
A native of Philadelphia, Kovach attended Indiana University (1983-1987) and was a member of their legendary swim team before joining the Navy in 1988. He and his wife, Magaly, reside in Coronado, CA.
SHERMAN GILLUMS, JR.
Sherman Gillums Jr., a native of Buffalo, New York, began his military career in the Marine Corps a month after his high school graduation. During his 12-year military career, he was meritoriously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant in 1999, appointed to the rank of warrant officer in 2000, and commissioned a chief warrant officer in 2001.
Four months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, as he prepared to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1st Marine Division, Gillums was involved in a tragic accident and became severely disabled, ending his military career at age 29. Subsequently, he received an honorable discharge from military service and went on to pursue a new career in disabled veteran advocacy. His military decorations include two commendation medals, an achievement medal, the Marine Drill Instructor ribbon, and the Global War on Terror service medal.
In 2004, Gillums joined Paralyzed Veterans of America as a VA benefits claims expert in San Diego, where he assisted veterans, families, and survivors with fighting for their entitlements. He later became involved with the local Paralyzed Veterans chapter and went on to become the chapter’s president and member of the National Paralyzed Veterans Field Advisory Committee. He worked as an appellate representative at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, DC, before accepting the position of associate executive director of veterans benefits in 2011.
He was promoted to deputy executive director in 2014 and presently serves as the organization’s executive director (appointed January 2016). During his career ascent in the organization, Gillums had served on the Federal Advisory Committee for Prosthetics and Special Disabilities, RESNA Committee on wheelchair standards, and the Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.
A well-respected commentator on veterans issues, Gillums has written opinion editorials for the New York Times, The Hill, and Buffalo News publications, and he has been quoted as an issues expert in Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Military Times, and Fast Company. He has testified before Congress as an expert witness on veterans benefits and has appeared on CNN, Fox, CBS News, and C-SPAN on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America. He was named a "Mover and Shaker" in the Power 300 Spring 2016 issue of Savoy magazine.
Gillums is a graduate student of the University of San Diego School of Business Administration, and he will complete the executive education program at Harvard Business School in November 2016.
David Zurfluh, a native of Washington, was re-elected national senior vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
The youngest of seven children, Zurfluh was born and raised in Tacoma, WA, where he currently resides. Zurfluh, who served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1995, comes from a military family: His father served in the Army in the General MacArthur Honor Guard; his grandfather served in the Navy during World War I; and a brother served in the Air Force.
Zurfluh was a jet engine mechanic and served as a crew chief in Operations Desert Shield/Storm. He was injured in 1995 in a motor vehicle accident while on active duty in Hachinohe, Japan, suffering a shattered left arm, broken left wrist, and a broken neck. He was diagnosed with incomplete quadriplegia and spent one year as an inpatient and two years as an outpatient in Seattle’s VA spinal cord injury unit.
Zurfluh joined Paralyzed Veterans of America in 1995 and has been active since 2003 with the Northwest Chapter. He has held chapter level positions as legislative director, vice president, president, and member of the sports committee. He also serves on the Veterans Legislative Coalition in Olympia, WA, and is co-chair of the West Slope Neighborhood Coalition.
In addition to his work on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans, Zurfluh is a lector at Holy Rosary Church and volunteers at local food banks. His hobbies include handcycling, shooting sports (trap, handgun, and archery), golf, and snow sports, and he enjoys Japanese history and gardening.
Charles Brown, a native of Missouri, was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
Brown joined the Marines in 1985 and was trained in aviation ordnance. He sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident in 1986 while serving in Cherry Point, NC.
During his initial rehabilitation at the Department of Veterans Affairs spinal cord injury center in Augusta, GA, Brown became a member of the Southeaster Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans. In 1987 he moved back to Missouri where he served on the Gateway Chapter board in a multitude of capacities, including Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, advocacy director, treasurer, and vice president.
While in St. Louis, Brown also helped establish the Rolling Rams quad rugby team. Seeking a more wheelchair-friendly climate, Brown relocated and joined the Florida Chapter in 1999. He served the chapter in a number of positions, including hospital committee chair, secretary, hospital liaison, national director, and president. Brown has also served on numerous national committees, including strategic planning, planned giving, and resolution. Currently on the USA Boccia team, he was selected team captain for the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Ranked 63rd in the world after one international tournament, he fully believes an active life has kept him healthy. Brown currently resides in Loxahatchee, FL.
JOSEPH (JOE) L. FOX, SR.
Joseph (Joe) L. Fox, Sr., was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
Previously, Fox served four terms as national president of Paralyzed Veterans from 2000–2004. Throughout the years he has served in many elected positions within the organization, including for the California Chapter in Long Beach as president, secretary, national director, and membership officer. Fox also served as a national service officer, helping veterans obtain their benefits.
Fox joined the United States Marine Corps in 1966 and served with the 1st Battalion 26th Marines. He was wounded on May 8, 1968, while serving in Vietnam during an operation in the province of Quảng Trị outside of Đông Hà. He received the Purple Heart in 1969 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant E-5.
He currently resides in Murrieta, California.
Hack Albertson, a native of Indiana, was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
Albertson served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1981 to 1985 as a weather observer and assistant forecaster attached to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 31 in Beaufort, S.C. He sustained a T-7 complete spinal cord injury in 1994.
Albertson has served several years on the Kentucky-Indiana (KIPVA) Paralyzed Veterans Chapter Board of Directors. He has also served as chapter vice president, chapter treasurer and national director and as a hospital liaison officer.
Albertson serves on the board of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Lifewaters.org, where he currently holds the position of office treasurer. He is also a member of the Paralyzed and Disabled Scuba Diving Organization. He is very active in outdoor sports, including handcycling, hunting, scuba diving, fishing, shooting, archery and softball. He has received 22 medals from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games over the five years he has participated.
Albertson and his wife, Jill, currently reside in Campbellsburg, Ind., where he is a member of the local First Baptist Church. They have four children with one daughter currently serving active duty as a LTJG U.S. Navy nurse.
Ken Weas, a native of Alabama, was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America, (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016. Previously he served three consecutive terms as national vice president, being first elected in 2002.
Weas joined the Central Florida Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans in 1995 and served as its vice president and hospital liaison program director until 2000, when he moved to Phoenix. As a member of the Arizona chapter, he served as its hospital liaison program director. In 2006 he returned to Florida and rejoined the Central Florida Chapter, reassuming the position of hospital liaison program and outreach director and also serving as a national director. He also has been a member of several national Paralyzed Veterans’ committees monitoring the quality of health care delivered to Paralyzed Veterans’ members and all veterans. In addition, he served as chairman of the Field Advisory Council under the presidencies of Joseph L. Fox, Sr.; Randy L. Pleva, Sr.; and Bill Lawson.
In 2008 the surgeon general of Florida appointed Weas to the Florida Department of Health, Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Advisory Council, which provides oversight for the state’s health care and other services for individuals in Florida with spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury. Weas continues today to advocate with energy and desire for better quality of life for individuals with a disability.
During a 14-year career (1978–1992) in the U.S. Air Force, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Weas sustained a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident while serving in the U.S. Defense Attaché Office at the American Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Rollins University.
He and his wife, Sue, currently reside in Clermont, FL. They have raised four children, Kristen, Justin, Megan and Kaitlyn, and now enjoy 5 grandsons (“cowboys”).
Larry Dodson, a native of Oklahoma, was re-elected national secretary of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
Dodson grew up in Oklahoma before relocating to North Carolina, where he graduated from high school. He joined the Air Force in 1966 and served until 1970. During that time he worked in a command center in Southeast Asia. After his time in the service, Dodson worked for the Photo Corporation of America from 1973–1984. On July 4, 1974, Dodson incurred a C-4 spinal cord injury.
Dodson attended Fresno State University before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he graduated with a degree in accounting in 1981. After college he owned and operated his own accounting business until 1999.
During his first visit to the spinal cord injury center in Augusta, GA, in 1994, he joined the Southeastern Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans. For more than 20 years Dodson had not known he was entitled to benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A Paralyzed Veterans’ national service officer candidate from 1999–2000 he became a member of the Southeastern Chapter board of directors in 2004. His service with the chapter includes assistant chair for the hospital committee, vice president, and national director.
Dodson resides in North Augusta, SC, with his wife, Debra. He has two adult daughters.
JAMES THOMAS (TOM) WHEATON, JR.
James Thomas (Tom) Wheaton, Jr., was re-elected national treasurer of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 70th Annual Convention held in May 2016.
Born and raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Wheaton enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1986 and is a plankowner (original crew member) of the U.S.S. Fort McHenry. He sustained a spinal cord injury while serving in Perth, Australia, in 1988. After recovering from his injuries and undergoing expanded rehabilitation, he was part of a group of veterans who ultimately organized into what became the Minnesota Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America in 1993. As the chapter’s first director of sports and recreation, he coordinated a number of new activities for paralyzed veterans and the disabled community throughout Minnesota. He also served as chapter treasurer.
After moving to Golden, CO, in 1996, he served on a regional basis as sports director, treasurer, hospital liaison, and executive director of the Mountain States Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans. He founded both the Colorado Rockies Wheelchair Softball League and the Colorado Avalanche Sled Hockey team and coordinated the National Wheelchair Softball Tournament held at Coors Field in Denver in 1998. Wheaton also served as first vice president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado.
From 1999–2003, Wheaton served on Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee, elected as vice president for two years and also as senior vice president. Since 2006 he has served as the organization’s parliamentarian, assisting a number of national presidents in fairly and effectively facilitating meetings of the board of directors. Since 2008, he has also been a member of Paralyzed Veterans’ Finance Committee.
In addition to his numerous Paralyzed Veterans responsibilities over the past 20 years, Wheaton has served on various national veterans and disability advisory committees, including the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. Within his community he is an elder of Hillside Community Church, co-leads its children’s ministries with his wife, Angela, and is currently the PTA treasurer for their children’s elementary school.
The Wheatons have been married for 13 years and are proud parents of two school-age children, William and Mia. They reside in Golden, Colorado.
Having served four consecutive terms as national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans), Army veteran Bill Lawson now serves in the role of immediate past president.
While serving as president, Lawson’s first priority was always to improve health care for veterans, especially those with spinal cord injury or dysfunction. During his term as president, Lawson traveled across the country numerous times visiting veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.
Lawson has testified before Congress and has been published in several local and national print media outlets, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and Stars and Stripes and on broadcast outlets, including NewsChannel 8 TV in Washington, DC; WNBC-TV in New York; and WGN radio in Chicago, commenting on a broad range of veterans issues.
A native Oklahoman, Lawson was honored with the Advocate of the Year award by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services in April 2011 for his work on behalf of all people with disabilities. He served as a panelist on the Oklahoma Veterans Council in Oklahoma City, which is composed of numerous veterans service groups within the state. He was also appointed to serve as a representative on a health-care task force developed by Oklahoma lawmakers. A Paralyzed Veterans’ life member, Lawson has held various key positions in its Mid-America Chapter and is a founding member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapter in northwest Oklahoma, where he served as its commander for three years.
While serving in the U.S. Army, Lawson was stationed at various bases throughout the United States, Germany and Japan. He enlisted in 1968 and was honorably discharged in 1979 after 11 years of service to his country. He and his wife, Linda, currently reside in Woodward, OK.