As a program of United Spinal Association, VetsFirst has a long and illustrious history assisting and representing veterans and their eligible family members.
In fact, our organization was founded in 1946 by paralyzed World War II veterans from New York City who banded together to raise awareness of the alarming plight they experienced returning home after proudly serving their country. Rejecting the poor treatment they received at their local VA hospitals, they led the charge for greater civil rights and independence.
In the 1940s, not only paralyzed vets, but all wheelchair users, were not one of society’s concerns. It was assumed that if you lived with a disability, you lived out your days within the walls of your home or an institution. However, there was a small population of people with disabilities who dedicated their lives to making their lives and the lives of their brothers and sisters better. And we’re proud that our founders play a role in this important fight, which eventually led to the passage of the most comprehensive law ever passed to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities—the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—which just celebrated its 27th Anniversary on July 26th.
As our organization matured under the leadership of James J. Peters in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, United Spinal helped improve the quality of health care for veterans, backing words with deeds and dollars by winning denied benefits for individual vets and investing money in VA programs and infrastructure. These efforts have been a boon to every American with a disability.
In 1970, Peters convinced Life magazine to run a cover story exposing the deplorable conditions facing Vietnam veterans with spinal cord injuries at the Bronx VA Medical Center. The story sparked a national outrage and convinced Congress to raze the facility and build a brand new hospital with special attention to SCI. In 2005, the hospital was renamed in honor of Peters and his work to ensure all veterans receive quality health care.
That once small “handful” of active wheelchair users has grown and continues to grow, encompassing not only veterans but the larger Disability Community. And United Spinal Association and its VetsFirst program has grown with it––unwavering in its fight to expand disability rights and strengthen independence and access for all.
Our driving force started out as being simply to help veterans who needed help. But we have achieved so much more over the years. We are proud to have helped introduce the ADA into law. The far-reaching impact of this legislation has opened many doors to people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. Our work did not end when President Bush signed this bill into law. We continue to weave the spirit of the ADA into concrete benefits for our community. We have improved access to public buildings and transportation, secured better health care and equal opportunities in the workplace, funded groundbreaking spinal cord injury research, fought for accessible homes for paralyzed veterans and expanded resources and support to all impacted by disability.
We’ve witnessed amazing progress as an organization; progress that our founders could only dream of. The small band of disabled World War II veterans that formed United Spinal in 1946 to right injustices they experienced firsthand, knew there was power in numbers; that by uniting their voices and working together they could make a bigger impact. That impact is seen today. With over 50 chapters, 170 peer support groups, and hundreds of partners and affiliates across the country, United Spinal now reaches more people than ever before with life-enhancing information and resources to pursue their goals. Whether it be finding support, reintegrating into society, or discovering new opportunities and success, we strive to empower individuals and in return, what is most rewarding, is that many of these same individuals pay it forward.