Since our founding, the Paralyzed Veterans of America Leadership Team has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for veterans and all people living with spinal cord injury
Every person on our Executive Committee is a member of Paralyzed Veterans of America
and was elected by our membership community
. Learn more about our dedicated leadership team:
David Zurfluh felt a duty to serve his country and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather (Navy), dad (Army), brother Tom (Air Force), and extended family who served in all military branches. When Zurfluh was in high school, he narrowed down the branches he wanted to serve in between the Marine Corps and the Air Force. His friend flipped a coin to determine his path — heads for Air Force and tails for the Marine Corps. The coin landed on heads, and Zurfluh’s path was set in motion.
A member of the U.S. Air Force from 1987 to 1995, Zurfluh served as a jet engine mechanic and a crew chief in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. While on active duty, in April 1995, he was injured in a motor vehicle accident in Hachinohe, Japan, suffering a shattered left arm, broken left wrist and a broken neck. Zurfluh was diagnosed with incomplete quadriplegia. After three weeks navigating through three hospitals, he wound up at the Seattle VA Medical Center.
Zurfluh was at his lowest point when two PVA National Service Officers came to his bedside and told him they would take care of him and do everything they can to make him as whole as possible. Zurfluh became a member of PVA when this life-changing moment occurred, in 1995.
Zurfluh spent one year as an inpatient, and two years as an outpatient in the Seattle VA Spinal Cord Injury Unit. After finishing rehab, Zurfluh wanted to do all he could for the organization that gave him dignity and purpose again. He determined to make it his life’s mission to help veterans with spinal cord injury, disorders, and related diseases like MS and ALS.
PVA changed my life forever. PVA literally stays with you from initial injury to the grave, not only for the veteran but the spouse/caregiver, family and friends.
A native of the state of Washington, Zurfluh started volunteering at the PVA Northwest Chapter, helping local members. He held chapter-level positions as legislative director, vice president, president, and member of the sports committee. Zurfluh realized that he could help even more PVA members by serving at the national level. In 2010, he was elected to the Executive Committee as national vice president, serving three consecutive terms. In May 2014, Zurfluh was elected as national senior vice president and re-elected for two consecutive terms.
In May 2017, he was elected as national president and re-elected for a second term in May 2018. In May 2019, during the PVA’s 73rd
Annual Convention, Zurfluh was re-elected as national president for a third consecutive one-year term which began July 1, 2019.
Zurfluh has served on the Veterans Legislative Coalition in Olympia, WA, and as co-chair of the West Slope Neighborhood Coalition in Tacoma, WA. In addition to his work on behalf of PVA in Washington, DC, Zurfluh currently serves on the National Board of Advisors of the Museum of Aviation Foundation, is a lector at Holy Rosary Church in Tacoma, WA, and volunteers at local food banks. His hobbies include hand cycling, shooting sports (trap, handgun, and archery), golf and snow sports.
Zurfluh travels extensively throughout the country advocating for and serving Paralyzed Veterans of America, and wants people to know that “We specialize in SCI/D veterans, but we serve all veterans; if a veteran needs help and comes through our doors or calls, we help them, their caregivers and their loved ones, period.”
Carl Blake was raised in Woodford, VA and comes from several generations of family members who served in the military. It was always his dream since he was a kid to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1998, Blake graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree.
After graduating from West Point, Blake was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1st Brigade) of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. He graduated from Infantry Officer Basic Course, U.S. Army Ranger School, U.S. Army Airborne School, and Air Assault School. His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, and German Parachutist Badge.
While on active duty, in April 2000, Blake sustained a spinal cord injury during a parachute training exercise. He did his spinal cord injury rehabilitation at the Richmond VA Medical Center in Virginia. A PVA National Service Officer was one of the first individuals he was introduced to at the Richmond VAMC, and that NSO helped him secure all of his veterans’ benefits and necessary health care. Blake retired from the Army in October 2000 due to his injury.
Blake became a member of PVA in 2000. He has “remained with PVA for more than 18 years dedicating my life to helping veterans and their families, particularly veterans with catastrophic disabilities like spinal cord injury or disorder.”
PVA was by my side through every step of my rehabilitation process. PVA also gave me my first career opportunity after leaving the military.
In January 2018, Blake was named PVA’s executive director. The most important thing he has learned in his role is that “there are thousands of veterans with spinal cord injury and disorder who rely on us to be their advocate when they otherwise do not have a voice. PVA supports these veterans so they have opportunities to live fulfilling, active lives in their communities.”
Blake is a member of the PVA Mid-Atlantic Chapter in Virginia. He lives in Fredericksburg, VA with his wife Venus, son Jonathan and daughter Brooke. Blake enjoys classic and muscle cars, deer hunting, and being in the outdoors.
DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Shaun Castle was born in Elmira, N.Y., and his family legacy of those who served in the military was never far from his mind. In particular, Castle’s father was a Vietnam War veteran, and he wanted to make his father proud by serving this country.
Castle enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2000 and became a military police officer stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. He served in Kosovo, Macedonia and missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism. In 2002, he served as a protective services guard to two four-star Generals.
In 2003, Castle was severely injured during a training exercise in Heidelberg. While a prosthetics surgery enabled him to walk again, he sustained further damage to his spinal cord. After a second spinal cord surgery which was unsuccessful, Castle learned during treatment at the Birmingham VA Medical Center in Alabama that he had a life-threatening allergy to all pain medications and muscle relaxers, a complication that nearly took his life.
PVA’s National Service Officer in Montgomery, AL, Anthony Steele, was at Castle’s bedside following his second surgery and let him know he was there to take care of him. That was the moment Castle was introduced to PVA.
I became the Deputy Executive Director for Paralyzed Veterans of America because I wanted to give back to the organization and people that saved my life.
In 2012, during his rehabilitation, Castle became familiar with the Lakeshore Foundation, a rehab hospital and Olympic training center, in Birmingham, AL. He immediately developed a passion for adaptive sports and playing Wheelchair Basketball. He went on to play college Wheelchair Basketball at the University of Alabama and professional Wheelchair Basketball in Europe.
Castle became a member of PVA in 2014. While studying at the University of Alabama, he worked with the ADA Compliance Committee and sat on the Diversity Committee as a representative for students with disabilities and veterans. He gave numerous speeches across the country on ADA compliance, disability rights and veterans’ issues, and was appointed to the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Committee on Prosthetics and Special Disabilities.
In 2017, Castle became PVA’s deputy executive director. In his role, he has testified on Capitol Hill on key legislative priorities for the organization. The most significant lesson he has learned from working at PVA is “how critical our mission is to our members and their families, and to the men and women who benefit from the hard work that our organization does to support all people with disabilities.”
Castle has been highlighted in NBC and NBC Sports, FOX and FOX News, Sports Illustrated and The Los Angeles Times
. He was the first adaptive sports athlete to be featured in a national commercial for Toyota, and in Forbes magazine.
Castle earned a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in communications, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Alabama, where he also pioneered the construction of an arena dedicated solely to Wheelchair Basketball. He is currently finishing a master’s degree in Global Business Management and Marketing. After he completes his degree, Castle plans to attend law school.
Tom Wheaton grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis. He decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy for many reasons, the most notable being that his grandfather and dad served during World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively.
Wheaton began serving in the U.S. Navy in 1986 and is a plank owner (original crew member) of the USS Fort McHenry. In 1988, while on active duty in Perth, Australia, he sustained a spinal cord injury. After his initial treatment at the Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital, he was transferred to the Milwaukee VA Spinal Cord Injury Center.
In 1989, Wheaton became a member of the North Central Chapter of PVA in Sioux Falls, SD. In 1993, he became a member of the new Minnesota Chapter of PVA, where Wheaton was the chapter’s first director of sports and recreation, and also served as chapter treasurer. After moving to Golden, CO, Wheaton served on a regional basis as sports director, treasurer, hospital liaison, and executive director of the Mountain States Chapter of PVA. He also served as first vice president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado.
PVA has changed my life in so many ways. Since I was injured over 30 years ago, this organization has provided me tremendous opportunities to get into a lifestyle of dignity.
For the last 22 years, Wheaton has served on PVA’s Executive Committee in various capacities, including as the organization’s senior vice president and parliamentarian. Having served alongside many dedicated leaders on the Executive Committee has made a profound effect on his life. Wheaton says “Journeying together to determine how we can best assist in enhancing the lives of our nation’s heroes has been extremely rewarding.”
Wheaton was re-elected national treasurer of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his new, one-year term on July 1, 2019. Being on PVA’s 2019-2020 Executive Committee, he wants people to know that “this is a significant time for us to continue to push forward and prove just how unstoppable we are.”
In addition to his responsibilities at PVA, Wheaton has served on various national veterans and disability advisory committees, including the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. Whenever he has spare time, Wheaton enjoys doing puzzles since they are metaphor for facing life’s challenges and overcoming them.
Within his community, he is an elder of Hillside Community Church and co-leads its children’s ministries with his wife, Angela. The Wheaton’s have been married for 18 years and are proud parents of two school-age children.
Marcus Murray is the son of an Army veteran and grew up throughout the United States, having spent the most time in Indianapolis. After completing four years of Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in high school, Murray knew that a military career was a great fit for him.
Murray served at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and Misawa Air Base in Japan. In October 2012, Murray was shot in a parking lot after attending the Circle City Classic and a family birthday in Indianapolis. A bullet entered Murray’s right shoulder and ricocheted through his chest, severing his T-6/7 nerve and paralyzing him from the chest down.
With the expert care from the medical staff at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis and the support of family and friends, Murray transferred to the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Spinal Cord Injury unit in Chicago, a month after his injury. PVA’s National Service Officer at the Hines VA connected with Murray during his month of rehabilitation, and he was able to learn about PVA for the first time. When he returned home following rehabilitation, Murray reached out to the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter of PVA.
PVA and the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter (KIPVA) have both changed my life in many ways. They have shown me that there is plenty life after my injury with adaptive opportunities, and also allowed me to be a voice for others.
In 2013, Murray became a PVA member and is currently the office manager of the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter of PVA.
Murray was voted in as national secretary of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his one-year term on July 1, 2019. He says “Being elected as National Secretary is more than an honor. I can not only be a voice but also an asset for the future of the organization.”
Murray has attended many National Veterans Wheelchair Games and participated in Wheelchair Basketball, air rifle and air pistol, 100m and 200m track, table tennis, and bowling. In addition to sports, his hobbies include traveling, photography, music, and learning about new things in technology and adaptive ideas.
Murray lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana and is a proud father and grandfather to three sons and a three-year-old grandson.
NATIONAL SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT
Charles Brown was re-elected national senior vice president of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his new, one-year term on July 1, 2019.
Brown joined the Marines in 1985 and was trained in aviation ordnance. In 1986, he sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident 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 Southeastern Chapter of PVA. In 1987, he moved back to his native 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 helped establish the Rolling Rams quad rugby team. Seeking a more wheelchair-friendly climate, Brown relocated and joined the Florida Chapter of PVA in 1999. In Florida, he served 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, Brown fully believes that an active life has kept him healthy. Brown currently resides in Loxahatchee, FL.
NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT
There was never any doubt in Hack Albertson’s mind that he would join the U.S. Marine Corps since every generation of his family had proudly served in the military.
A member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1981 to 1985, Albertson served as a weather observer and assistant forecaster attached to Marine Aircraft Group 31 in Beaufort, SC. He sustained a T-7 complete spinal cord injury in 1994.
In 2008, Albertson signed up to participate in a government clinical trial online for a walking with functional electrical stimulation study at the Cleveland VA Medical Center. At the Cleveland VAMC, Albertson found out about PVA, the veteran benefits that the organization could help him receive, and adaptive sports. It was a life-changing moment for Albertson, and he began working to help veterans with PVA.
Albertson has been on the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter of PVA’s Board of Directors for several years. He has also held chapter positions as vice president, treasurer, hospital liaison officer, and national director.
Paralyzed Veterans of America has given me so much personally. I have been able to help other veterans through serving at PVA.
Albertson was re-elected national vice president of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his new, one-year term on July 1, 2019. He serves on PVA’s Executive Committee because he loves helping newly injured veterans find ways to make their lives better. What Albertson wants the public to know about PVA is “How our programs help all veterans. We also impact their caregivers and children immensely. PVA is the loudest voice for the disabled community.”
Albertson is 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 certified scuba diver and is a member of the Paralyzed and Disabled Scuba Diving Organization, and the Wounded Veterans in Parks (WVIP) program.
On Dec. 7, 2018, Albertson experienced a momentous day in his life when he did a dive at the USS Arizona
to finish testing several oil-resistant materials for future research, as part of the Pearl Harbor WVIP program.
Afterwards, he got the chance to meet members of the Eagles’ band.
In addition to scuba diving, Albertson is a class II athlete and has earned 32 medals at eight National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The sports he received medals for include trapshooting, softball, boccia ball, archery, and many more.
Albertson and his wife, Jill, currently reside in Campbellsburg, IN, where he is a member of the local First Baptist Church. They have four children, with one daughter currently serving on active duty as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.
NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT
Throughout Tammy Jones’ early childhood, her dad was in the U.S. Army, and the patriotism and service to others he instilled had a big impact on her. During high school, Jones enjoyed participating in both the Army and Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. After graduating, in December 1985, she decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
While on active duty in the Air Force, at the age of 19, Jones was stationed in England as a maintenance scheduler for F-111 aircraft when she had a motor vehicle accident. This resulted in a complete spinal cord injury, leaving her a quadriplegic.
In 1986, during her initial rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital Spinal Injuries Center, a social worker told Jones and her family to look into Paralyzed Veterans of America when they returned to the US. A few months later, after arriving at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, FL, Jones met a gentleman from PVA who was there to help her. For Jones, that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with the organization.
Since joining PVA in 1987, Jones has been involved with multiple chapters of the organization. She has been a board member, sports and recreation director, secretary and most recently, vice president of the Texas Chapter.
Getting involved with PVA offered support for me as a veteran and for my family. They were instrumental in reassuring me and my family that though there has been a traumatic event, a full, valuable life is available to me, to the degree that I chose to go after it.
Jones’ work on PVA Committees include the Field Advisory Committee, Planned Giving Committee, and Women Veterans Healthcare Committee. She proudly represents PVA on the VA Prosthetics Women Veterans Emphasis Work Group. Jones wants people to be aware of the impact that PVA’s collaboration with Yale University’s Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration, and University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, has had on research advances to benefit the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury and disorders.
Jones was re-elected national vice president of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began her new, one-year term on July 1, 2019. One of the most important things she has learned from serving on PVA’s Executive Committee is that “There are many talented and valuable PVA members, both male and female, who can help us continue to move PVA forward.”
Married since 1999, Jones and her husband, Dale, enjoy riding on their motorcycle and making the most out of each day. Jones’ hobbies include NASCAR, hunting, music, and adaptive sports.
NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT
Ken Ness is from Minnesota and was a cadet in the U.S. Air Force. While attending the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1974, he fractured his neck in a wrestling accident, initially completely paralyzed from the neck down.
Ness was first treated in Denver where his accident occurred, and then transferred to Wood VA Hospital (now known as Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center). He had an operation that was successful in fusing his cervical spine, however, Ness was rendered totally paralyzed again. Luckily, he began to have sensation and function slowly come back. Ness was told he was perhaps the only person ever to have been entirely paralyzed twice and experienced such a great recovery.
Ness provided legal assistance to help establish the Wisconsin Chapter of PVA in 1982, and since then, he has been the chapter’s General Counsel. Ness officially became a member of the Wisconsin Chapter in1986. He has served on the chapter’s Board of Directors and has held positions as the chapter's national director and secretary.
For over forty years, Ness has been assisting individuals either as an employee of a U.S. Senator, as an attorney both in governmental and private practice, and/or in his capacity of working for the Wisconsin Chapter of PVA.
The medical care and treatment that I received once I was transferred to the SCI unit at Wood VA Hospital was a direct result of the education and advocating done by PVA.
Ness was newly elected to the fourth National Vice President spot of PVA’s Executive Committee during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his one-year term on July 1, 2019. He wanted to be on the Executive Committee “in order to assist in meeting the upcoming challenges in whatever manner I can, and in helping make the decisions that will need to be made in the very near future.”
The services and programs that PVA provides is not only for paralyzed veterans, and Ness wants the public to know that. “Some of the medical treatments championed by PVA are the ‘gold standards’ around the world for all SCI patient care - not just for veterans; the medical research that is funded by PVA is very broad based and helps virtually all patients - not just paralyzed individuals; and many of PVA’s advocacy successes have, and continue to benefit many others, both veterans and in the general public.”
Ness loves participating in many different adaptive sports including cycling and air rifles. He has three children and lives in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.
NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT
Robert Thomas grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and played football and basketball. He enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating high school in 1987. Thomas served as a power generation equipment specialist at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Camp Humphreys, South Korea; and Fort Bragg, NC.
While on active duty, in 1991, Thomas had a diving accident that severed his fifth and sixth vertebrae. He was introduced to PVA through the Cleveland VA Medical Center, and in 1996, he began volunteering with the Buckeye Chapter of PVA in Ohio.
Thomas joined PVA in 1993 as a member of the Buckeye Chapter of PVA. He took some time off to earn his associate’s degree in Information Technology, and returned to the Buckeye Chapter of PVA board in 2010. He has served as the chapter’s vice president since 2012, and as the chapter's representative on the national Field Advisory Committee and the Resolution Committee.
PVA has changed my life by introducing me to things that I believed to be over when I became injured, such as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, and showing me that you can still live a fulfilling life although you have sustained a catastrophic injury.
Thomas was re-elected national vice president of PVA during the organization’s 73rd
Annual Convention in May 2019, and began his new, one-year term on July 1, 2019. He initially joined PVA’s Executive Committee, and continues to serve on the Executive Committee, because he wants to help “lead the organization well into the future.”
In addition to his role as PVA’s national vice president, Thomas currently serves as the chair of PVA’s Resolution Committee, and is the organization’s national parliamentarian.
Thomas and his wife, LaShon, live in Macedonia, Ohio. Thomas enjoys reading, watching sports, and playing adaptive sports like power soccer, bowling, air guns, and scuba diving.
AL KOVACH, JR.
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT
Al Kovach, Jr., of Coronado, CA, served as national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America from July 2014 until June 2017. With the re-election of David Zurfluh as PVA’s national president for the Executive Committee’s 2019 – 2020 term, Kovach will continue to serve as the organization’s Immediate Past President for a one-year term that began on July 1, 2019.
A member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, Kovach was paralyzed in a parachuting accident during a combat training exercise in 1991. Kovach has served at the highest levels of leadership within PVA since 2007. He began service to the organization in 1991, at the chapter level as government relations director for the Cal-Diego Chapter of PVA in San Diego, and has since served on its board of directors.
In his role as PVA national president, Kovach delivered testimony before the U.S. House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committees, was published monthly in Paraplegia News
, and appeared regularly on local (CA) and national media to discuss key veterans’ issues.
A lifelong athlete and a proponent of adaptive sports, Kovach is a two-time winner of the LA Marathon, a participant of the Paralympic Games, and has completed a 3,700-mile transcontinental triathlon.
As a recognized leader in veterans advocacy, Kovach is a sought-after advisor for civic, community and corporate partners who share his commitment to 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.