New England PVA Administration
I’ve been C5-6 quadriplegic for 16 years and married to my wife Terry since 2002, who’s also a very active registered PVA Volunteer. I proudly served both in the Marine Corps infantry as an 0351 Assaultman and Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician collectively for 10 years. I am veteran of the Cold War and Persian Gulf War Eras. And like many of you, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my military service, family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me, say I am also defined by my attention to detail, the accountability that accompanies it and the need for knowledge to maintain it. I’m constantly looking for ways to be more effective in whatever I do. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So, my service, family, and desire for knowledge all define me.
Like anyone else, I had a choice about volunteering my time and resources with the Chapter. I am here for a few simple reasons — to give back to an organization I believe in, that’s both helped me and had a positive impact on my life, and to ensure others like me have the same opportunities. I joined PVA as a Life Member in 2008, but in 2012, I needed help obtaining VA benefits and Specialized SCI medical care. I contacted the New England Chapter, who was able to put me in touch with the right people to ensure I received those benefits and medical care in a timely manner. At the time, I couldn’t tell you who it was that helped me, except that they were there to help and had the resources to do so. So, in this same spirit, I want to help ensure the Chapter continues to be there as a resource for others that might be in need, whether seeking VA benefits, quality medical care, life enrichment or just some camaraderie with their peers. Since that time, I’ve volunteered to represent the Chapter in Washington, D.C., joined the Board of Directors, serve as the Chapter’s Communications Director, Cord Word Editor and also a member of PVA’s Budget and Finance Committees.
I believe in making a difference in people’s lives. My goal as President, is to make a positive difference in the lives of our New England Veterans who’ve suffered a SCI or dysfunction. PVA is the only Veterans Service Organization (VSO) specifically tasked with addressing the unique needs of those with SCI or disease. Living with and experiencing these same needs myself, helps give me a unique perspective, which I feel enables me to personally connect with those the Chapter is serving. While the Chapter has seen great success, the opportunities that lie ahead to continue its mission will require its Leadership to re-imagine a lot of what it’s done in the past.
Finally, I want each Chapter member, volunteer, VA employee and anyone in need, regardless of location, position or status, to know I’m available to you any time. I honestly want to hear any concerns you might have and do what I can to help.
Mike Guilbault - Vice President email
I am an Air Force veteran who became a life member in 1996. I was first elected to the BOD in 1998 and served as Asst. Sports Director until I was made Sports Director in 2001. I’ve been to DC to advocate for veterans benefits many times and volunteered at our golf tournament and school presentations ever since becoming a member. I helped get the New England PVA website running and currently am the VAVS Rep for New England PVA, the Hospital Liaison for the Brockton VA, and the New England PVA Peer Mentor Rep. I organize the ‘What’s it Like’ school visit program and enjoy spending time and educating the elementary school children that I believe can then go help educate their parents that being in a wheelchair does not make us any different from them. We just may have to do some things a little differently. I also get great satisfaction mentoring new injuries and working with the VA Recreational staff to help get our members involved in the many excellent opportunities for recreation as well as team sports. I was the Sports Director who started the Air Rifle shooting program at the VA hospitals in order for our members to practice weekly for the annual wheelchair games event. I have gained much from those who mentored me and got me involved in activities when I was a new injury. I work well with the hospital staff and would like to make sure we continue to have quality care and many opportunities to get out and enjoy life through the many recreation and sports programs now available to our members. I’ve written many Cord Word articles detailing all the programs available to us and am always willing to hear from you if there is something that you think we could add.
Debra Freed-Executive Director & Government Relations Director
My Air Force career began in January 1981. My MOS was Jet Engine Mechanic. Between 1983 and 1985, I would suffer two serious falls, which required two major back surgeries. However, I would complete my tour of duty in May of 1985, and be honorably discharged as an E-4 Sgt from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. I suffer incomplete paraplegia, and arachnoiditis. My education is a BS in Library Science (1994), an MSA in Administration with a concentration in Health (2000), and a paralegal certificate (2004). I am also a Notary Public!
I am a steering committee member of the MA Women Veterans’ Network, a member of the MA Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Affairs, a member of PVA’s Association of Chapter Government Relations Directors (ACGRD) and a member of PVA’s Association of Chapter Executive Directors (ACED). I have been the chapter's Government Relations Director (GRD) since 2005. In Aug 2012, I was promoted to Executive Director (E.D.). I am also on PVA’s Planned Giving Committee through 2014.
For you, our members, I hope to continue advocating at the local, state, and federal level for SCI/D veterans, all veterans, and the disabled community.
I grew up in Sturbridge, Mass, and my wife and I currently live in Lawrence, Massachusetts. From 1999 to 2002 I proudly served aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Olympia (SSN-717) as a Sonar Man and ship’s Diver. My three years aboard that great ship were some of the most challenging and rewarding of my life.
During my freshman year in college, in the fall of 2003, I was involved in a motorcycle crash that left me a T-4 Asia-A paraplegic. As a patient at the West Roxbury VA Medical Center at West Roxbury I was introduced to the New England PVA. I was challenged and motivated by fellow veterans. The Peer Mentor program and the outstanding New England PVA service officers ensured that all of my and my family’s needs were met during that difficult time. I have since mentored several individuals myself, and feel that peer mentoring is one of our most important initiatives.
I returned to college and graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. I have been employed as a Systems Engineer at Raytheon Company since 2010.
In the disabled community I see numerous opportunities for service and outreach. I believe activities such as the New England PVA Bass Tour, winter sports clinics, and the National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games are important for quality of life and camaraderie and that individuals should be encouraged and enabled to participate. I also feel that there is huge value in research into health and life issues.
I have been an active member of New England PVA since 1986 and have held the following positions in the chapter: BOD member, Chapter Secretary, Advocacy/Legislative Director, National Director. A graduate of UMass Boston, BA English/Philosophy, Masters in Education, Rehabilitation Counseling. I served in the United States Air Force 1970-1974. I am married with two children, Michael, 21 years old, in ROTC Louisiana State University, Stephanie, 14 years old. Also active in the community as the Treasurer of the South Shore Community Action Council, Inc. serving people of poverty and families of low income. I live in the Town of Plymouth, MA.
John Brako email
In the army, I served in an operational detachment of an airborne psychological operations unit of the first special operations command. I was trained to be an interrogator in the Russian and Italian languages. I was also trained as a reconnaissance commando in recondo school where I learned about SERE tactics (survival, escape, resistance, evasion). I also received training as a public speaker and was awarded my "competent toastmaster" certificate in 1997. I utilized this skill in the leadership program of the PVA in 1997. Earlier, I used this skill in the corporate world, where I worked as a business service supervisor in the collections/revenue and credit/activations departments of Cellular One.
I have participated in the veterans wheelchair games for the past three years as well as the 2002 winter sports clinic. I am 36 years old. My two sons will be seven and nine this year. I am the former chairperson of the Acton Commission on Disability.
Wayne Ross email
I grew up in Scituate, MA a small town on the coast between Plymouth and Boston commonly referred to as the Irish Riviera. I graduated from Scituate High School in 1984. I attended Norwich University in Northfield, VT, the nation’s oldest private military school. Upon graduation I received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force. I served three years active duty as a Nuclear Launch Control Officer on the island of Sicily and as a Transportation officer in Louisiana. I hold entries in both the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe It or Not. I've served on the New England PVA Executive Board for two years and started the annual Las Vegas Night fundraiser. Paralyzed a C6 quadriplegic since October 1996, I was injured while bicycling from Prudhoe Bay, AK to Cape Horne Island Chile, the world’s longest continuous land mass. Since my injury I've competed in several sports at the local, regional and national level. I have attended six National Veterans Wheelchair Games, Six National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinics, Six New England Winter Sports Clinics for Disabled Veterans and several bowling tournaments. My biggest accomplishments have been in Swimming. I've attended several local and regional meets in addition to qualifying for and competing at the National Disabled Swimming Championships six times. I currently have 21 national level medals and held the 200m freestyle national record for four years. I also travel to schools, hospitals, businesses, civic and religious organizations doing motivational/educational presentations.
I was born and raised in Lawrence, Mass, along with two brothers and a sister. Two weeks after graduating from Lawrence High School in 1973, I was in boot camp in Cape May, NJ with the U.S. Coast Guard. While in the Coast Guard I served on two medium endurance cutters, the Vigilant out of New Bedford, MA and the Durable in Brownsville, TX. I also worked with the Captain of the Port of Boston. After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 1976, I was retired as a Quartermaster Third Class in 1977.
After rehabilitation at WROX, I moved to So. California for the accessibility, college and the opportunity to do some coast to coast driving. After six years New England beckoned and I moved to Connecticut and became a National Service Officer for the Eastern PVA. Two years later I resigned because of an inability to travel after breaking a hip. In 1987 I found some land in New Hampshire, bought it, cleared it, and built a house. Donna Jean became my wife in 1989. Notre Dame College graduation occurred in 1993, and our son Jacob was born in 1997. Around this time I became active in the Chapter, first with the NVWG, then with Sports and Rec. Day, bowling, softball, fishing, and skiing. Our son Joshua came to live with us in 2008. I was elected to the Executive Board of the New England PVA in 2009.
Neal Williams - BOD Member, National Director & ADA Coordinator,email
I am a US Army Veteran (CWO USAR (ret)) with nearly 14 years of active duty when I was released in 1981 and subsequently retired from the reserve. My injury is as a result of combat service in the Republic of Vietnam, where I served as a Counter-Intelligence Special Agent. I continued to serve in that capacity and later as an Area Intelligence Technician. I am a life member of New England PVA, PVA, Military Order of the Purple Heart, VFW, AMVETS, DAV and Vietnam Veterans of America. While I support all veterans and all organizations supporting and advocating for veterans, I have chosen to work exclusively for PVA expressly to assist those with spinal cord injury and disease. My level of injury is T-10 and I am incomplete.
I have worked tirelessly for years for my fellow Veterans, have testified before congressional committees, and lobbied for several years on behalf of Veterans in support of The Independent Budget. New England PVA has allowed me to continue to lobby in Washington on behalf of veterans where I have been able to meet with Congressmen and Senators from both sides of the aisle and from throughout New England to let them know of pending legislation and the position of New England PVA concerning that legislation. As a former national officer, and also former national service officer with another veterans organization, I bring a good deal of experience that I hope will be of value to New England PVA in the years to come.
On a more personal level, I have two children, both married, and 8 grandchildren. My interests include spending a good deal of my time as a worker for my Church. I also enjoy skiing as a result of my exposure to the New England Winter Sports Clinic, and being chosen to work as a volunteer at the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I was inspired by the athletes there.