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 2014-15. All members of the executive committee are members of Paralyzed Veterans and were elected by Paralyzed Veterans' membership.
Al Kovach, Jr., of Coronado, CA, was elected national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014, taking office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee July 1. A member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, Kovach broke his neck in a parachuting accident in 1991.
He served as national senior vice president for Paralyzed Veterans for the past three terms. 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 has completed a 3,700-mile transcontinental triathlon. He was selected as San Diego Hall of Champions’ Disabled Athlete of the Year in 1999. Most recently he was honored by KPBS in San Diego as a “Local Hero” in October 2013 during Disability Awareness Month.
A native of Philadelphia, Kovach attended Indiana University before joining the military. He and his wife, Magaly, reside in Coronado, CA.
Homer S. Townsend, Jr., began serving as Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) Acting Executive Director in July 2007. He was selected as Paralyzed Veterans' Executive Director in March of 2008. In March 2006, Townsend was awarded Paralyzed Veterans' Speedy Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, in recognition of his significant contributions to improving the lives of America’s paralyzed veterans.
Previously, Townsend served as Paralyzed Veterans Immediate Past President from October 2000 through September 2004. He served as Paralyzed Veterans National President for two years from October 1998 through September 2000. Townsend also served as Paralyzed Veterans Senior Vice President for two years and National Vice President for four years. He has served on numerous national Paralyzed Veterans committees, including serving as chair of both the Paralyzed Veterans' Long Range Planning Committee and the Paralyzed Veterans' Field Advisory Committee.
Originally from Woodland, ME, Townsend left to join the Marine Corps. He moved to Mesa, AZ, after being medically retired after serving five and a half years. Townsend served as an aircraft electrician where he was retired as a staff sergeant. He worked on F-4 Phantoms, A-4 Skyhawks, A-6 Intruders and AV-8A Harriers.
Townsend has served at every capacity on the chapter level except that of secretary and treasurer. During his tenure as chapter executive vice president, he was responsible for bringing the Access to the Skies Conference out of Washington, DC, to Phoenix, AZ, where it grew from 40 attendees to over 200 - half being from the disabled community.
In addition to his Paralyzed Veterans' responsibilities, Townsend has also served as a member of the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, the Arizona Governor’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities (1992-1996), and the Mesa Mayor’s Committee on Handicap Awareness (6 years), which he chaired for two years. He was presented the key to the city by the mayor for his dedicated service. Appointed by the governor, he has recently completed a four-year term as a commissioner on the Arizona Veteran Service Commission.
Townsend currently resides in Arlington, VA, while serving as Paralyzed Veterans Executive Director. His permanent residence is Mesa, AZ, where he is an entrepreneur. Townsend has a son, Dale, daughter-in-law, Melissa, and three grandchildren, Atticus, Hazel and Edith.
SHERMAN GILLUMS, JR.
Sherman Gillums, Jr., deputy executive director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, began his military career in the U.S. Marine Corps when he enlisted at the age of 17 and quickly ascended into leadership, retiring as a chief warrant officer. During his career, he served in numerous assignments, including a tour as a Parris Island drill instructor, Program Officer for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton’s Close Combat Program, and Director of the Combat Visual Information Center.
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 vehicle collision at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and became severely disabled. He sustained a cervical spine injury that ended his military career at age 29. Gillums received an honorable discharge from military service and went on to pursue a new career in advocacy for veterans with disabilities.
During his military career, Gillums earned two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Global War on Terror Service Medal. His leadership résumé includes graduation from the Marine Corps Sergeants Course, Senior Drill Instructors Course, Warrant Officer Basic School, and the topflight Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer Course at the Center of Excellence in Quantico, Va. He was recognized as “Battalion Drill Instructor of the Year” and meritoriously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant in 1999, followed by appointment to the rank of warrant officer a year later.
Gillums began his career with Paralyzed Veterans as a national service officer in San Diego, where he developed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits claims and clinical appeals for veterans and families in the area. He later became involved with the local Paralyzed Veterans chapter and went on to become chapter president. He also served on Paralyzed Veterans’ National Field Advisory Committee.
After earning a master’s degree in executive management from the University of San Diego, Gillums returned to the VA benefits claims arena as an appellate representative at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, DC. He was promoted to associate executive director of the veterans benefits department in 2011, where for nearly four years he strategically reshaped the veterans benefits department for a 21st century reality, including initiatives to improve veterans’ employment.
Gillums was named deputy executive director of the national organization on October 13, 2014.
He and his wife, Tammie, reside in Virginia with their six children.
David Zurfluh, a native of Washington, was elected national senior vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
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.
Zurfluh took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
Charles Brown, a native of Missouri, was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
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.
Brown took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
JOSEPH (JOE) L. FOX, SR.
Joseph (Joe) L. Fox, Sr., was elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
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.
Fox took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee on July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
Tamara Lawter, a native of Nebraska, was re-elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
Lawter has served as national director for Paralyzed Veterans’ Great Plains Chapter since 2008 and has been the chapter hospital liaison officer for several years, where her main focus has been to actively identify individuals for Paralyzed Veterans’ membership.
Lawter grew up in Kearney, NE, and attended Kearney State College for two years before joining the U.S. Army. She spent two years in the Army stationed at Ft. Stewart, GA, in the 23rd Replacement Detachment. She then joined the South Carolina National Guard, 228th Signal Brigade, in Spartanburg, SC. While in the National Guard, she attended the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg and earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies, with an emphasis in math, political science, psychology, and business administration. Lawter then returned to active duty as a medical service officer and was stationed at Ft. Stewart, GA, from December 1992 to January 1995. She was injured in February 1994 and was medically retired.
Lawter is an active member of her church and volunteers as a Special Olympics swim coach. She is active in adaptive sports and participates each year in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. She currently resides in Kearney where she is raising her two sons.
Lawter took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
Ken Weas, a native of Alabama, was elected national vice president of Paralyzed Veterans of America, (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014. 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”).
Weas took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee on July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
Larry Dodson, a native of Oklahoma, was re-elected national secretary of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
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 elected national treasurer of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) during its 68th Annual Convention held in February 2014.
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.
Wheaton took office with the other members of Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee on July 1, 2014, for a one-year term.
Having served four consecutive terms as national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans), Army veteran Bill Lawson will now serve in the role of immediate past president. He and other members of the Paralyzed Veterans’ Executive Committee assumed office July 1.
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.