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United Spinal Association Covid-19 Support

4/23/20 Update!

While USA is not currently awarding any new grants at this time, please continue to complete the online form below in order to be notified when more will be granted in about 2 weeks or so. Feel free to contact us with any questions.

United Spinal Association has been awarded a grant from the Craig H Neilsen Foundation which allows our members to apply for Covid-19 Relief Grant of $500 for individuals with SCI/D who are experiencing hardships due to circumstances related to Covid-19.

Click here to read more and to apply for the grant. To learn more about Craig Hart Neilsen, click here.



We sincerely hope this message finds you healthy, happy, and safe! These are definitely trying times for everyone as the most effective defense of COVID-19 continues to be self-isolation from friends and the public in general.  Understanding that these guidelines will be implemented for an indefinite period  of time, and the reality that these policies disproportionately effect individuals in our community, we are working hard to alleviate some of the unique stresses placed on individuals with SCI/D and their families.

This morning, Sportable and USAofVa are announcing that we have joined forces to offer you assistance in the form of an Emergency COVID-19 Relief Program.  We will be sourcing products in high demand (hand sanitizer, gloves, disinfectant wipes, etc.), groceries, medical supplies, and any necessary items that would otherwise require you to break self-isolation to obtain.  Employees and dedicated volunteers will be doingcontact free deliveries.

We are extremely grateful to the Craig H. Nielsen Foundation for affording us the opportunity to further assist our community in adhering to best self-isolation practices and alleviate some of the financial strain this pandemic is causing.

Individuals with SCI should visit where they will find more information about this program, including an online survey that will serve as an application. Requests will be fulfilled on a highest-need basis. For more information about the Emergency Support Program, please contact Wendy Bondeson at, or call 804-340-2991.

The SCI/D community is the most resilient and adaptive group of people society has seen. We will get through this together. As always, we are stronger united.



Sudden Spinal Cord Injuries force many individuals, their families, and friends into a whirlwind in a fraction of a second.  With an average length of stay in inpatient rehabilitation being a mere 3-6 weeks, time is of the essence to organize many objective aspects including accessibility to the ideal place for the individual to return to post-discharge: Home.

For one such family, this was the harsh reality 3 days before Christmas when Liz Hartman, a young mother of 2 with one on the way, faced complete paraplegia due to a motor vehicle accident.  Luckily, United Spinal of Va was able to be present to offer Peer Support and assistance through their newest program, the Ramp Project.

(First USAofVa Ramp Project ramp installation)

Recently, USA of VA was awarded a grant through the Craig H. Nielsen Foundation which makes it possible for individuals living with fresh SCI/D to obtain a wheelchair ramp who would otherwise not be able to afford one comfortably and/or be otherwise forced into institutionalized facilities. To date, USAofVa has been able to coordinate and fund the installation of 7 ramp across the state of Virginia.

“We are incredibly thankful to our community partners, especially the Craig H. Nielsen Foundation, for affording us the opportunity to provide our newest members some ease of mind in knowing that accessibility to the home will be one less thing they will need to worry about, allowing them to focus more on healing and adapting to the new life they are facing. It is my hope to expand on the USAofVa Ramp Project, in the future, so as to ensure that no Virginians living with SCI/D experience hardships when attempting to access their homes.” Richard Bagby, Director, USAofVa.

With the help of our partnering vendors Mobility WorksTycon Medical, and National Seating and Mobility, modular ramps are installed in time for their users to be released from the hospital or rehab, making it possible for them to go home. If you are in need of a ramp for yourself or a loved one, ask your Social Worker for more information about how to apply.  Social Workers and case workers may obtain further information on the Ramp Project by emailing us here.

If you would like to help make more ramp installations possible, please consider contributing to USAofVa. All donations are tax dedictible.



USAofVa Member, Vicki Varner, Crowned Ms. Wheelchair Virginia

On January 19th, 2019, United Spinal Association of Va member Vicki Varner competed in the Ms. Wheelchair Virginia pageant at Wilson Rehab in Fishersville, Va. At the conclusion of the weekend, Miss Varner rolled away with a new crown and title: Ms. Wheelchair Virginia. We invite you to take in Vicki’s journey from softball player, to pageant winner, and beyond…in her own words. Congratulations Vicki!

My Journey to Ms. Wheelchair Va

Vicki Varner

On Christmas Eve of 2015, my brother’s blue Ford Focus rode off into the night surrounded by heavy fog and crashed into an unforgiving tree just about five miles away from home. As blue flashing lights drove towards our car turned accordion, I looked down at my Christmas pajamas splattered in blood and knew that the legs that had taken me to Missouri on an athletic scholarship just 4 months prior were now paralyzed. On Christmas morning, I was told from my father and the doctor that I would never walk again. As my dad told me this news, I felt the hand that had always lifted me up in strength go weak. What do you do in a moment like that? Many would tell you that you don’t have any option but to “just” accept it. I am here to tell you that in life changing situations, YOU have the ability to decide how that unforeseen moment is going to shape the rest of your life. Sure, it is great to accept it, but it is even better to grow from it, to thrive. I decided that I absolutely had to turn this around somehow. I had to breathe strength and reassurance into not only myself, but to those people who have breathed that same strength into me. Through my couple of weeks in the ICU, I began to realize that I was lucky. Yes, you read that correctly, lucky. I was alive! My brother and boyfriend had survived the wreck and I had my arms, my mind, my spirit, and my sense of humor. I had so much opportunity to chase and so much gratitude to express. So, I chose to pick myself up off the cold floor and rise into the phoenix I am today.

The next few years would consist with very high highs and very low lows. I found myself in the hospital every couple of months within that first year and a half after injury. I was set in the belief that I could still live my life the exact same way that I did prior to my spinal cord injury, but have since learned that minor alterations were needed to live that life successfully and most importantly healthily. Those couple of years took a toll on me not only physically but mentally as well. I was terrified that this is what my life had become now and struggled to see that light at the end of the tunnel. It is easy for  me to talk about the accident, but I find difficulty in talking about what happened as an after effect. Those of us who have been through trauma are usually surrounded by the love and support when the incident first occurs, but as the months go on there are less and less people in our corner. You have to dig deep and be that person who rallies on and fights the bumps that pop up in your journey. When I wheeled over those stubborn bumps in mine I was overwhelmed of all the amazing opportunities of the world and at just 20/21 I was still searching for my purpose of being. I was a fulltime student but I still wasn’t getting that fulfillment that I craved and needed. I knew I was built for more but I just didn’t know where to begin to find it. Then as life always seems to do when you least expect an opportunity fell into my lap.

I found out about the Ms. Wheelchair VA program in December. I am not going to lie at first I was a little apprehensive. I just didn’t think I could make the switch from softball dirt and cleats to pageantry. That is where I was completely wrong and where a lot of people misinterpret the program. Ms. Wheelchair VA  is an advocacy program that gives women the opportunity to educate, advocate, and raise awareness for various issues within the disability community. There is absolutely nothing pageantry about it, just strong women making significant changes. Now that is something I can get behind. I have always had a strong voice and an even stronger mind. Being a Psychology and Communications major I have a solid understanding of how to communicate effectively as well how to relate to many different types of people. I knew that having the title of Ms. Wheelchair VA would require those skill sets and I had been searching for a way to put them to use in a field I have extreme passion for. It seemed like the perfect fit. During the event weekend you are asked to prepare something called the “Table of Life” which is a display that showcases who you are as a person along with your platform. You’re also asked to complete a speech on your platform and memorize it. I had a couple of weeks to get everything  together which made a perfectionist like myself go a little haywire. Everything kept falling into place for me however and it really began to feel like God, fate, or whatever you may believe in was working in my favor. When I got to the event I was immediately blown away. It is extremely empowering to be around strong women from many different rolls over life who are working towards changing the world in the best way. I knew whether I won or lost that I would roll away with an amazing experience and an enhanced perspective and that is exactly what I got.

When I had the honor of winning the title, Ms. Wheelchair VA, I felt the purpose I had been craving rush through my body. I was ready to make a difference and put my platform to life. My platform is breaking down societal ableist beauty standards. I chose this platform, because women already have such high expectations on how they should look, dress, and act. When a wheelchair gets thrown into the mix society doesn’t even know what to do with itself. I plan on speaking to local and statewide ad agencies on adding much more inclusive campaigns.  I also am a very fitness oriented person. Since  athletics was my whole life I continue that into my daily life today. Fitness is even more important when having a disability. It helps with a whole array of issues both mentally and physically. All fitness is geared towards able bodied people and it leaves a lot of people with disabilities in the dark about how to start down their fitness journey. I plan on talking to gyms across the state and educating them on the importance of adaptive equipment and classes. I also plan on speaking at various schools on driving safety and disability etiquette to show that people with disabilities aren’t strange or abnormal, but just normal everyday people who actually have amazing things to offer. Changes start with the youth and I plan on using them to help start the changes necessary. I overall just aim towards a more adaptive and inclusive community and I working hard to achieve that. I am doing several podcasts and speaking engagements to teach the state of Virginia that disabilities are nothing to fear but something to value.

Thank you for your support and for following my journey as Ms. Wheelchair VA. I will be at Nationals in Little Rock in July and I hope the support and loves follows.

Vicki Varner

Ms. Wheelchair VA.

USAofVa Participates in 5th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill

United Spinal Association of Virginia was thrilled to have the opportunity to have representatives descend on Washington D.C. June 26th for the 5th annual Roll on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the national United Spinal organization. The 4 day event was attended for the second time by USAofVa Executive Director Sharon Drennan, first time attendee Dep. Dir. Richard Bagby, and repeat attendee Bill Furtig. They joined over 150 advocates from 38 states to bring awareness to pertinent legislation to the disabled community (which is detailed here)

The Virginia contingency was welcomed to the offices of all senators and congressmen representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, wherein many subjects were lobbied for.image

The following is a detailed recap of the event from the national organization:

Over 150 wheelchair users, clinicians, partners and disability advocates from 33 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, gathered in Washington, D.C. on June 26-29 for our 5th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill to discuss improving disability policies with key congressional leaders.

Roll on Capitol Hill is United Spinal’s annual signature policy event that highlights advocacy priorities for its membership and the broader disability community to ensure wheelchair users and all people with disabilities are included in policy debates impacting their own health, independence, and quality of life.

“I’m delighted to welcome new and returning advocates, and look forward to what the future will bring for United Spinal and for people with SCI/D, veterans and the disability community at large. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you to build upon our many years of service to improve the civil rights and independence of our community,” said David Cooper, United Spinal’s Chairman of the Board who is a wheelchair user and military veteran.

“This is our fifth year hosting Roll on Capitol Hill and every year it gets better thanks to support from our sponsors. We appreciate their commitment to our mission and the work of our advocates to improve the rights of people with disabilities,” said James Weisman, United Spinal Association’s president and CEO.

During Roll on Capitol Hill, attendees took part in over 200 congressional office visits, meeting face-to-face with their representatives and other key legislators to personally discuss their unique challenges living with a disability and the need for:

access to customized rehab technology, prescription drugs, and medical supplies
home and community-based services and supports so that individuals can live and participate in their communities;
accurate incidence and prevalence data for individuals living with spinal cord injury and other conditions;
minimum standards of safety and quality for adaptive equipment at the VA;
funding of home modifications and adaptations for all categories of disabled veterans;
funding, grants and tax credits for veteran homebuyers.
On June 27, Roll on Capitol Hill attendees participated in a full day of policy briefings from advocates, agency officials and former Capitol Hill staffers.

The day began with Keynote Speaker Maria Town, Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement, Executive Office of the President.

“The work I do would not be possible without the leadership of United Spinal and support from all the advocates at Roll on Capitol Hill. Thank you for all your advocacy efforts this week and the continued advocacy you will pursue once you leave DC. Hearing from all of you helps to ensure the White House is doing more to benefit the disability community,” Town said.

On the evening of June 28, United Spinal hosted a Congressional Awards Reception to recognize members of Congress for their outstanding service to people with disabilities and veterans, including:

The Honorable Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and The Honorable Mark Kirk (R-IL) were honored with the Junius A. Kellogg Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award for their vocal support of disability and veterans issues.
The Honorable Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was honored with the VetsFirst Congressional Bronze Star Award for her efforts to increase opportunities for veterans living with disabilities and to help them reintegrate into their communities.
The Honorable Charles Schumer (D-NY) was honored with the James J. Peters Disability Rights Champion Award for his extensive leadership for the disability community
United Spinal also honored consumer advocate Stephanie Woodward, Esq. who received the 2016 Finn Buller’s Advocate of the Year Award for her dedicated work to ensure the full integration, independence, and civil rights of people with disabilities.

“It’s truly an honor to receive the Finn Bullers Advocate of the Year Award, not only because Finn was an incredible advocate, but because his life embodies the very reason the Disability Integration Act was written – to keep disabled people out of institutions and in the community. It’s heartbreaking to know that such a great advocate was forced into an institution and died there when he should have been living in freedom. I’m proud to receive this award named for Finn and I will continue to fight for the Disability Integration Act so that all people with disabilities can live in freedom,” Woodward said.

For more information about the public policies that United Spinal addresses at Roll on Capitol Hill and throughout the year.

United Spinal gratefully acknowledges our Roll on Capitol Hill sponsors for their support of our members and advocates in making a positive difference in the lives of thousands of individuals living with disabilities.

USAofVa Attends Sportable’s Annual Paralympic Experience Day at VCU’s Siegel Center

On Friday April 15th Sportable, in partnership with VCU’s Center for Sports Leadership, Sportable hosted their annual Paralympic Experience Day.

The event took place at VCU’s Siegel Center and was MC’d by NBC12’s Marc Davis.

Participants, including many USAofVa members, got the chance to try some adaptive sports offered by Sportable including: hand cycling, weightlifting, goal ball, sit volleyball, power soccer, and wheelchair basketball.

The evening culminated with an exhibition wheelchair basketball game featuring the newly crowned NIT National Champion Sportable Spokes v.s. The VCU Rams men’s basketball team. The Rams competed well while adjusting to the adaptive sport, but were no match for the young Spokes. The Spokes took home bragging rights with a 23-13 final score.

The main event had an equally impressive encore. Mark Zupan made a gracious appearance, lending his celebrity to the Paralympic

Mark Zupan, Paralympic Gold Medalist and star of "Murderball"

Mark Zupan, Paralympic Gold Medalist and star of “Murderball”

Experience. Zupan captained the 2008 USA Olympic wheelchair rugby team to gold in Beijing, and is the star of the critically acclaimed documentary “Murderball”. Zupan capped the evening off by speaking to the Spokes and attendees about how his disability has added so many positive things to his life. His ultimate message was to not let disabilities hinder your dreams, you can still accomplish a great deal…just in a different way.

Sportable is hosting another Paralympic Experience Day for those living in the Piedmont region on April 23rd at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.