President; National Director; Site Leader, Hospital Liaison, and VAVS Representative (Butler VA Medical Center) Residence: Jefferson Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania
I was in the final draft in 1972 so I decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy Reserves. I attended Storekeeper “A” School in San Diego, California then reported for active duty in June 1973 serving in the supply department issuing supplies, ultimately serving as the Financial Manager of the Supply Department on the USS Dale (DLG-19). I was discharged from active duty to my U.S. Navy Reserve Center in Pittsburgh in June 1975. Upon discharge from active I had advanced to the rank of Storekeeper 2nd Class and remained in the reserves for two more years.
On April 1, 1985 I fell from a roof and sustained a C-4, C-5 incomplete injury which left me a quadriplegic. In February 1989 after a long rehabilitation, I decided to get a baclofen pump to control my spasms. Since I received the pump, I have been able to drive an equipped van.
I graduated from the Butler Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Accounting in 1990. While attending College I volunteered in the Fiscal Department at the Butler VA Medical Center. In the late 1990’s I joined PVA and elected to participate in their recreation program.
While serving as a member of Keystone PVA I have held many positions. They include Board member, Sports Director and Treasurer from 2000 thru 2005 and Vice President from 2005 until the present.
I have also served as Keystone PVA’s National Director from 2001 thru 2007 and 2010 thru the present. I also served on PVA’s Finance Committee from 2005 thru 2008.
I volunteer over 1,000 hours annually at the Butler VA and Keystone PVA.
Vice President Residence: West Deer Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
I served in the U. S. Air Force. I continue to serve on the Keystone Chapter’s Board of Directors with a special interest in serving and treating veterans with multiple sclerosis. I serve on committees and task forces at the pleasure of the Board and the president of the Chapter, such as recently, as chairman of the Board Election Vote Committee.
Secretary Residence: Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania
I joined the Air Force at age 18. After basic training I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, where I served as an aircraft machinist starting in 1983. In 1986 I was involved in an automobile accident that broke my neck, resulting in my becoming a paraplegic.
After several major surgeries and about four to five months of rigorous rehabilitation to stabilize me, I returned to Pennsylvania to complete many years of physical and occupational therapy. I still do physical therapy to keep me in shape and active.
I joined the Paralyzed Veterans of America in the early 1990s when I was approached by a Keystone Chapter member and that’s when I joined the chapter and became active. I am involved in all types of sports and recreation programs whether it be local, state, or at the national level, such as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, for the past ten years, where I’ve been awarded with many medals and awards for my efforts.
I’ve served as the chapter’s Deputy Representative of the VA Volunteer Services program at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, Pa. for many years, and I am now the primary Representative. I also am a member of the Patients Centered Care Committee and the Veterans Advisory Council at the Altoona VAMC. I’ve been a regular volunteer at the Altoona VAMC for almost ten years and have been acknowledged with many pins, certificates and awards for my hours of dedication to veterans for my efforts.
In 2013, I was elected to the chapter’s Board of Directors and then as the board secretary. I also am the Keystone Chapter’s hospital liaison officer (HLO) for the chapter, which involves monitoring and reporting on the care of veterans at the Altoona VAMC, and I am the chapter’s site leader for Keystone Chapter members in the Altoona-Johnstown-Somerset region.
I want to give back to my fellow veterans as much as possible, because Paralyzed Veterans and the VA were there when I needed help and they still continue to meet my needs. I am honored to be part of this fine organization and love to help with my fellow veterans in any way that I can.
Treasurer Residence: Shaler Township, Allegheny County Pennsylvania
I have retired from a U.S. Navy career that ran from March 31, 1970 to October 31, 1990. My first day of boot camp was on April Fools Day and I retired on Halloween. As an Electrician’s Mate, I was usually assigned to the engineering spaces in power generation and distribution. My fifteen years of sea duty have all been with the Marines in the amphibious forces — the Gator Navy. I have traveled extensively through the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas, and transited the Panama and Suez Canals. I became a Shellback crossing the Equator off the coast of Kenya, and became a Blue Nose (twice) when I crossed the Arctic Circle off Norway. I have been fortunate to see the Crown Jewels of England, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Great Pyramids and the entire King Tut exhibit at the Cairo Museum in Egypt.The medical condition that qualified me for membership in the Paralyzed Veterans was transverse horizontal myelitis. The chickenpox I had as a child reactivated around my spinal cord. Although nothing was broken, my spinal cord was inflamed at the T-4 vertebra. As the inflammation wore off, the senses returned.
Personal awareness of what paralyzed veterans go through is my reason for being an active Paralyzed Veteran. Before I was paralyzed, I never really spent time with those who were paralyzed or otherwise disabled. Having seen and experienced a new world from a wheelchair, I became aware of the problems we face and what we do to overcome them. The chapter introduced me to adaptive sports and speaking to members of Congress on behalf of our members. I enjoy talking about our chapter and what we do.
Jobs or positions I’ve held for the Keystone Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans include Secretary-Treasurer, Service Officer, Fundraising Chairman, Combined Federal Campaign speaker, and Sharing and Caring Committee representative. I turn in a monthly report of the time I spend on chapter business, but I do not keep track of my yearly hours. I spend my time to make Paralyzed Veterans a better organization.
You might like to know: My wife Jean joined my naval career in 1976 and survived fourteen years as a Navy wife. She works with me at chapter functions. We have a daughter, Stacey. I have an Associate Degree in Specialized Technology from Dean Institute of Technology. I relax and enjoy doing needlepoints. Most of them have been given as gifts or in support of raffles for veterans’ programs. Many colorful ones help brighten the rooms of our veterans in the hospice wing of the Lebanon VA Medical Center.
Executive Director Residence:Penn Hills, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Executive Director of Keystone PVA since April 2005
Navy veteran, 1974-1980. Served as a nuclear reactor operator aboard the USS Bainbridge (CGN-25) 1976-1980
Bachelor’s degree (summa cum laude) in communications, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
Continuing professional education includes Institute for Organization Management, 1986-1991, and Penn State Economic Development Course, 1995
Previously worked for chambers of commerce and economic development organizations
Also worked as a newspaper writer and photographer and as a substitute classroom teacher
Past professional affiliations include Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce Executives (president, 1993) and Clarion University Alumni Association (president, 1989)
Currently treasurer of the PVA Association of Chapter Executive Directors
Joe went to work for the Keystone Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America in April 2005 as only its second executive director since the chapter’s founding in 1960. (Joe Kiren, in the 1990s, was the first.) Since then, he has supported, initiated, or convinced the chapter to expand its reach into the business and civic communities in Pennsylvania, where the Paralyzed Veterans have experienced growing support for its mission and its modest financial needs. The chapter is a charter member of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, on whose Public Policy Committee Joe serves. To stay visible and engaged in the community, the chapter has memberships and representatives on civic, business, and veterans support organizations across Pennsylvania. Joe supported the revision of PVA’s Chapter Hospital Liaison program, beginning with arranging for a meeting among the PVA’s top national officers and chapter leaders in 2010, and renewed training for HLOs in 2011. Since then, the Keystone Chapter’s HLO program has consistently turned in detailed and timely reports on how veterans are being treated in VA medical centers in Pennsylvania, and has prompted these VAMCs to make improvements in operations and facilities for all vets.
Joe supported and sometimes initiated expansions of the chapter’s recreation programs. Following his involvement in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh in August 2011, he prompted a review of the partnership relationship between the PVA and its chapters and the VA, the latter being the nominal sponsor for the Games, a review that resulted in a formal set of initial guidelines for host chapters, approved by the PVA Board of Directors May 2016. In partnership with PVA’s Shooting Sports program, he initiated the chapter’s participation in the PVA Trap Shoot Circuit, holding its first event in the Pittsburgh region in September 2013.
Joe’s first assignment for the chapter in 2005 was to move its headquarters offices into premises that had been acquired shortly before he went on the job. He arranged for contractors to make modifications to the building and parking lot that made it Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, as well as making or arranging for the installation of equipment and the move itself to Sharpsburg, 20 miles from the previous location near Bridgeville and much closer to the VA Pittsburgh HealthCare System’s campuses. He remains the overseer of the building’s operations and maintenance.
Joe had 20 years experience as a nonprofit organization manager, mostly with chambers of commerce, small foundations and economic development organizations when he went to work for the Keystone Paralyzed Veterans. The most strking difference between the Boards of Directors he had worked for and the Paralyzed Veterans was how much of the organization’s work was done by the veterans themselves. They visited the hospitals to monitor conditions, organized recreation events, and did much of the chapter administration, such as the financial accounting.
Joe has been a member of the PVA Association of Chapter Executive Directors (ACED) since his first year on the job with the Keystone Chapter. The ACED develops professional skills and shares best practices among PVA chapter executives. Joe currently serves as the association’s treasurer.
Among his previous professional affiliations was his 13-year membership in the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce Executives, including seven years on the PCCE Board, one of those years as president. He was also a Board member and president of the alumni association of his alma mater, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in communications with a concentration in business.
Among many professional development programs that he has both organized and participated in, Joe is a graduate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management and Penn State University’s Economic Development Course.
Joe is a Navy veteran of six years. He was trained to operate, test and maintain naval nuclear power plants and served in those capacities aboard the USS Bainbridge (CGN-25), with deployments in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Bainbridge’s most notable service during Joe’s enlistment from 1974 to 1980 was as part of the task force that responded to the taking of the American embassy hostages in Teheran, Iran, in November 1979. The Bainbridge set a ship’s endurance record of 91 continuous days at sea while it was deployed to the Arabian Sea.
Upon his honorable discharge in May 1980 in San Diego, he returned to Clarion, Pennsylvania, where his mother and father still live. He assisted his father with his business and began coursework at Clarion State College, finishing with a degree in communications in May 1984, the year CSC became Clarion University of Pennsylvania. During his college work he was also employed full time as a reporter and photographer for the Leader-Vindicator newspaper in nearby New Bethlehem. The college and newspaper work supported his application to become the executive director of the Clarion Area Chamber of Commerce, where he worked for three years. He followed that with work at the Mon-Yough and Airport Area Chambers of Commerce and the Airport Area Development Council through 2004.
Joe is very proud to serve alongside his fellow veterans. He believes that the Paralyzed Veterans of America has been enormously successful in promoting and achieving rights and services for veterans, with and without spinal cord dysfunctions, and for a much broader disability community, despite the fact that PVA and its 34 chapters nationwide are a relatively small and often obscure veterans service organization. He also is certain that PVA can be even more influential as the public learns more about what its own veterans do (read the Five Facts Flyer issued by the Keystone Chapter). PVA members leave no man or woman behind.
Joe has been married to Sylvett, a registered nurse, since 2005. They reside in Penn Hills, a community just east of Pittsburgh.