The Benefits Box

THE BENEFITS BOX A service of PVA’s National Service Officers
This Benefits Box has been provided by PVA Health and Benefits Specialist II Charles Tocci, based in PVA’s Syracuse, N.Y. Regional Office.

The ReWalk Exoskeleton System

As we all fight with technology on a daily basis, the company ReWalk Robotics has produced a new gadget that is changing our member’s lives nationwide. In December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first powered exoskeleton to be issued for personal use, which is called the ReWalk, and is quickly gaining popularity.

What is the ReWalk?

The ReWalk is an exoskeleton system that allows individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) to sit, stand, turn and walk. The system is carefully adjusted specifically for each person and strapped to the user.  The main goal of the system is to mimic natural gait in a controlled, independent system while being accompanied by a trained companion.

How can I get a ReWalk?

Although process is lengthy and entails an involved procedure, the product is not difficult to obtain. The evaluation can be initiated in a few ways. First; you can self-refer yourself. Second; your VA provider may contact your SCI Center, and as always, you may reach out to your local National Service Officer (NSO) to assist you in obtaining the ReWalk.

Once a consult has been placed, you must undergo a comprehensive evaluation to see if you meet the criteria. For instance; the system requires the use of two canes so upper extremity strength is critical. Numerous other strengths and functions are assessed as well. As you might expect, height and weight are also determining factors to include leg lengths. Some other aspects taken into consideration are bone density, blood pressure while standing, skin integrity, risk of autonomic dysreflexia, and as previously mentioned, a companion that can actively participate in training and supervise while using the ReWalk at home. Unfortunately you cannot qualify if you have a diagnosis of a neurological injury other than SCI.

Now for the fun part, which is testing! This is the lengthy portion of the process. Rigorous testing is conducted because you are literally learning how to walk again.  You will need to achieve certain skills like getting in and out of the system, go to and from sit to stand, operate the communicator, and walk at least 10 meters with minimum assistance.  After more practice with the device and the certified therapist agree you are eligible, one may be loaned for home use under supervision for a minimum of 45 days.  The SCI Team will then collaborate for the purchase of the ReWalk system.

For more detailed information concerning the ReWalk system, contact your VA provider or Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) NSO.


Loan Amount

Maximum Guaranty

Special Provisons

Up to $45,000 50 percent of loan amount 25 percent on interest rate reduction refinancing loans
$45,000 – $56,250 $22,500 Same as above
$56,250 – $144,000 40 percent of the loan amount, with a maximum of $36,000 Same as above
$144,000 or more Up to an amount equal to 25 percent of the county loan limit Same as above

To qualify for a VA home loan, a veteran or the spouse of an active duty service member must certify that he or she intends to occupy the home. When refinancing a VA-guaranteed loan solely to reduce the interest rate, a veteran need only certify to prior occupancy. A loan can not be guaranteed by the VA without first being appraised by a VA-assigned fee appraiser. The requester pays for the appraisal upon completion and according to the fee schedule approved by the VA. The VA fee appraiser estimates the value of the property. This is not the same as a home inspection and it does not guarantee the house is free of defects. The VA only guarantees the loan and not the condition of the property.

For purchase home loans, payment in cash is required on all closing costs. The VA appraisal, credit report, loan processing fee, title search, title insurance, recording fees, transfer taxes, survey charges, inspection, hazard insurance premiums and prepaid taxes may not be included in the loan. These closing costs must be paid by the veteran, unless if you are refinancing a loan wherein most of theses costs can be included into the loan. If you are refinancing a loan all such costs may be included in the loan as long as the total loan does not exceed the reasonable value of the property.

An eligible borrower can also use a VA-guaranteed Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan to refinance an existing VA loan to lower the interest rate and payment. Typically, no credit underwriting is required for this type of loan. The loan may include the entire outstanding balance of the prior loan, the costs of energy-efficient improvements, as well as closing costs, including up to two discount points. Interest rate reduction loans may include closing costs, including a maximum of two discount points. If the lender charges discount points on the loan, the veteran may negotiate with the seller as to who will pay the points or if they will be split between buyer and seller. Points paid by the veteran may not be included in the loan (with the exception that up to two points may be included in interest rate reduction refinancing loans). The term of the loan may be for as long as 30 years and 32 days.

Please be aware that the VA does charge a funding fee that ranges from as low as .05 percent to as high as 2.4 percent depending on the type of loan you choose. The funding fee must be paid to the VA unless the veteran is exempt from such a fee. Exemptions include: those who are in receipt of VA disability compensation; or are rated by the VA as eligible to receive compensation as a result of pre-discharge disability examination; or are the unmarried surviving spouses of a veteran who died in service or as a result of a service-connected disability. The funding fee can be paid in cash or it can be included into the loan. The VA funding fee and up to $6,000 of energy-efficient improvements can also be included in the VA loan.

The Periods of Service required for entitlement to eligibility are as follows:

World War II: (1) active duty service after Sept.15, 1940, and prior to July 26, 1947; (2) discharged under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) at least 90 days total service unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Post-World War II: (1) active duty service after July 25, 1947, and prior to June 27, 1950; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) 181 days continuous active duty service unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Korean War: (1) active duty after June 26, 1950, and prior to Feb. 1, 1955; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) at least 90 days total service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Post-Korean War: (1) active duty after Jan. 31, 1955, and prior to Aug. 5, 1964; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; (3) 181 days continuous service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Vietnam War: (1) active duty after Aug. 4, 1964, and prior to May 8, 1975; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) 90 days total service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability. For veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, the beginning date is Feb. 28, 1961.
Post-Vietnam: (1) active duty after May 7, 1975, and prior to Aug. 2, 1990; (2) active duty for 181 continuous days, all of which occurred after May 7, 1975; and (3) discharge under conditions other than dishonorable or early discharge for service-connected disability.
24-Month Rule: If service was between Sept. 8, 1980, (Oct. 16, 1981, for officers) and Aug. 1, 1990, veterans must generally complete 24 months of continuous active duty service or the full period (at least 181 days) for which they were called or ordered to active duty, and be discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Exceptions are allowed if the veteran completed at least 181 days of active duty service but was discharged earlier than 24 months for (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) service-connected disability.
Gulf War: Veterans of the Gulf War era — Aug. 2, 1990, to a date to be determined — must generally complete 24 months of continuous active duty service or the full period (at least 90 days) for which they were called to active duty, and be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. Exceptions are allowed if the veteran completed at least 90 days of active duty but was discharged earlier than 24 months for (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) service-connected disability. Reservists and National Guard members are eligible if they were activated after Aug. 1, 1990, served at least 90 days, and received an honorable discharge.
Active Duty Personnel: Until the Gulf War era is ended, persons on active duty are eligible after serving 90 consecutive days.

In order to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility complete VA Form 26-1880 — “Request for a Certificate of Eligibility” — and mail it to: VA Eligibility Center, P.O. Box 20729, Winston-Salem, NC 27120. Once your Certificate of Eligibility is received from the VA you can apply for a VA loan.

The VA does provide assistance to veterans who are in default. If a veteran’s home loan becomes delinquent, the veteran should immediately contact their lender and explain what caused the missed payments, and discuss how they can be repaid. Depending on a veteran’s situation the lender may offer any of the following options to avoid foreclosure:

Repayment Plan: Make a regular payment each month plus part of the late payments.
Forbearance: Lender temporarily suspends payments to allow veteran time to accumulate funds to reinstate the loan or sell the property.
Loan Modification: Lender provides a fresh start by adding delinquency to the loan balance, and establishing a new payment schedule.
Compromise Sale/Short Sale: Lender approves a sale of the home for less than what is needed to pay off the loan. The remainder is written off and/or paid by VA guaranty.
Deed-in-Lieu-of Foreclosure: Lender accepts a deed to the property instead of going through a lengthy foreclosure process.

The VA does not have the funding to lend to veterans who are behind on their payments, but they can offer financial counseling to veterans with VA-guaranteed, conventional, or sub-prime loans. For veterans with VA-guaranteed loans, the VA may be able to intercede with the lender to help arrange an alternative option to foreclosure, but does not have that authority on other loans.

For additional information about the Home Loan Guaranty please contact your local PVA National Service Officer or the VA’s toll-free number for the Home Loan Guaranty program is 1-877-827-3702.

Michael J. Kruse is a United States Air Force and Persian Gulf War Veteran. He entered the military in July of 1990 and worked as a Tactical Aircraft Maintenance Specialist on the F-15 Fighter. He was stationed at Holloman AFB New Mexico, Langley AFB Virginia and King Abdul Aziz Air Base Dhahran Saudi Arabia. He completed his four year enlistment and was honorably discharged in from the Air Force in 1994. Mike has gone on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Medaille College, and Paralegal degree from New York Paralegal. As an accredited representative, Michael has spent more than 12 years assisting veterans and their dependants obtain education, health care, compensation, and or pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the Senior National Service Officer at the Paralyzed Veterans of America office in Buffalo New York.


George “Murph” Neelan

George “Murph” Neelan

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.

William D. Lightner

William D. Lightner

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.

William D. Jakovac

William D. Jakovac

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.

The Board of Directors

PrintThe Keystone Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America is governed by a Board of Directors, which includes nine elected directors, four of whom are elected officers of the organization.  Board members and members in good standing are also appointed to oversee important Chapter programs and committees.  The daily work of the Chapter is performed by a small administrative staff.



Jim Riemer
Vice President
George “Murph” Neelan
Read Murph’s bio
Bill Lightner
Read Bill’s bio
Bill Jakovac
Read Bill’s bio



Executive Director
Joseph W. Dornbrock
Read Joe’s bio
Kurtt Robinson
Office Manager
Diane V. Byrnes
Administrative Assistant
Beth L. Carmona



Advocacy Director
Bill Jakovac
Jerry “Bull” Baylor
Read Bull’s bio
Legislative Director
Chris Fidler
Chris Fidler
Read Chris’s bio
Membership Officer
Tom Strang
Hospital Liason Coordinator
Chris Fidler
Tom Strang
Read Tom’s bio
Service Officer
 George “Murph” Neelan
Ben Williams
Read Ben’s bio
Sports Director
Jerry Baylor
Newsletter Editor
Joe Dornbrock
Associate Sports Director
Tom Strang
Volunteer Coordinator
Agnes Strang
Fundraising Coordinator
Bill Jakovac
Soldiers & Sailors
Ben Williams
Lance Alexander
Bill Jakovac
Sharing & Caring
Bill Jakovac
Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission
Chris Fidler
Pennsylvania War Veterans Council
Chris Fidler
Allegheny County Federation of War Veterans Societies
George Neelan
Allegheny Co. Veterans Affairs Advisory Council
George Neelan
 Southwest Pa. Veterans Center Advisory Council  Tim Sager
Lebanon Veterans Advisory Council
Chris Fidler
Updated 01 August 2017


Policy on photography at Keystone PVA meetings and events

All persons attending any meeting or event sponsored and/or organized by the Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America may be photographed for descriptive, informational, or promotional purposes. Photographs used may appear in The Parascope, the Keystone PVA web site, or on the Keystone PVA’s exhibition displays (posterboards used to promote the chapter at events), among other places. Keystone PVA assumes that an attendee has given consent, by virtue of his or her attendance, for the chapter to use his or her image for the purposes listed above. Keystone PVA may share these photos with the national Paralyzed Veterans of America for similar purposes. Any person may deny use of his or her image at the time of the event by informing both the photographer and an official of the Keystone PVA. Any person may deny post-event use of his or her image by submitting denial in writing to President, Keystone PVA, 1113 Main Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15215-2407, or by fax, 412-781-2659.

Policy regarding Keystone PVA reporting on public elected officials

Keystone PVA has been granted non-profit status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is categorized under Section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code. As a condition of this status and category, Keystone PVA does not take any action or position on the election of any person to any public office at any level of government. No member, volunteer or staff person may use the resources of Keystone PVA to promote such election. Any mention or photo of a public elected official in any communication of Keystone PVA is for informational purposes and in the context of that public elected official’s incumbency only. It is the intention of Keystone PVA to avoid the mention or use of images of any public elected official within 60 days of any public election in which he or she is a candidate. The appearance or mention of a public elected official who is also a candidate for public office in any communication of the Keystone PVA does not constitute endorsement by Keystone PVA. The appearance or mention of any member, volunteer or staff person of the Keystone PVA in any communication of a candidate for public office does not constitute endorsement of the candidate by the Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America. Members, volunteers and staff persons of Keystone PVA have been counseled to avoid situations in which their presence or commentary may be misconstrued as endorsement or support by Keystone PVA.

Links To Other Helpful Organizations

Keystone works with other organizations to benefit more people with its work
Keystone works with other organizations

Paralyzed Veterans of America
Keystone PVA is one of 34 chapters of the national PVA, which is based in Washington, D.C.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
MS is the major spinal cord disease affecting military veterans. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and its local chapters are our partners in addressing MS.

Lupus Foundation
Lupus is among the diseases recognized by the PVA as affecting the spinal cord.

Fair Housing Partnership of Pittsburgh
The Fair Housing Partnership is the only organization in Pittsburgh that works as both an equal opportunity housing counseling agency and a fair housing advocate and enforcer of federal, state, and local housing laws. We are a community resource here to fight all forms of housing discrimination to insure that our city is a welcoming and equitable home for all.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Three Rivers Center for Independent Living
TRCIL’s mission is to empower people with disabilities to enjoy self-directed, personally meaningful lives by providing outstanding consumer-controlled services and by advocating for effective community change.

Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living
TRIPIL’s mission is to affirm liberty and justice for all people with disabilities. As a Center for Independent Living (CIL) we provide five core services: advocacy, information and referral, nursing home tradition, peer support, and skills training. Our service area is primarily Washington, Fayette, and Greene Counties in Pennsylvania.

Wheelchair Basketball at based at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Four athletes with Edinboro connections competed at the 2012 Paralympics in London. The U.S. wheelchair basketball team, coached by Jim Glatch of Edinboro U., brought back a bronze medal from London. Click on the link at the top of this paragraph to read more.

Mobility Works Expo
Mobility Works puts on a great open house each October at its Pittsburgh facility. The address is 1090 Mosside Boulevard, Wall PA 15148.  Keystone PVA is proud to have been a participant in the show every year. 2016 Expo: Exact date to be announced.

IRS information

pvaflaglogoTop Ten Ways to Get Help From

When you’re looking for tax information, you want to find it as quickly and easily as possible. That’s why the IRS redesigned its website. It’s now even more user friendly.

Here are the top 10 reasons to visit

1. Get 24/7 Access.  Whether you do your taxes during the day or burn the midnight oil, has the tax forms and answers you need when you need them. It’s accessible all day, every day. The Interactive Tax Assistant is a helpful tool that will answer many of your tax law questions. Several tax forms, publications and information are also available in Spanish.

2. Use Free File.  Anyone can prepare and e-file their taxes for free with IRS Free File. Offered exclusively at, Free File’s brand name software or fillable forms do the work for you. If you made $57,000 or less, you qualify to use free tax software. If your income is more than $57,000 or you feel comfortable preparing your own tax return, use Free File Fillable Forms. This option provides the electronic versions of IRS paper forms.

3. Try IRS e-file.  Whether you do your own taxes or hire a preparer, IRS e-file is the safest, easiest and most popular way to file a complete and accurate tax return. Since 1990, taxpayers have e-filed more than one billion returns. If you owe taxes, e-file gives you options to file early and pay by the tax deadline. If you are due a refund, you should receive it in less than 21 days.

4. Check Your Refund Status.  You can track your refund using the enhanced “Where’s My Refund?” tool. It’s quick, easy and secure and has a new look this year. You can start checking on the status of your refund within 24 hours after the IRS has received your e-filed return. You can check your refund status four weeks after you mail a paper return. The tool includes a tracker that displays the progress of your return in three stages while it is processed. Once IRS approves your refund, “Where’s My Refund?” will give a date to expect your refund.

5. Make Payments Electronically.  E-payment options are a convenient, safe and secure way to pay taxes. You can authorize an electronic funds withdrawal, use a credit or debit card or enroll in the U.S. Treasury’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.

6. Use the EITC Assistant.  The Earned Income Tax Credit is a tax credit for working people who earned less than $50,270 in 2012. The credit can be worth as much as $5,891. Check your eligibility using the EITC Assistant tool. You may be among the millions of eligible workers who get the EITC this year.

7. Get Tax Forms and Publications.  You can view and download tax forms and publications any time. It’s the easiest way to get IRS forms and publications.

8. Figure the Right Withholding.  The IRS Withholding Calculator will help to ensure you don’t have too much or too little income tax withheld from your pay.

9. Request a Payment Agreement.  Paying all your taxes on time avoids penalties and interest. However, if you cannot pay your taxes in full you may be eligible to use the Online Payment Agreement Application to request an installment agreement.

10. Get the Latest Tax Law Changes.  Learn about tax law changes that may affect your tax return. Special sections of the website highlight changes that affect individual and business taxpayers.

How to Get IRS Forms and Publications

The Internal Revenue Service provides free tax forms and publications on a wide variety of topics – from tax credits for individuals to a tax guide for small businesses.

Here are four easy ways to obtain tax forms and publications from the IRS:

1. On the Internet.  You can get IRS forms and instructions quickly and easily by visiting the website 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They often appear online before they are available on paper. To view and download tax products, select “Forms and Pubs.”

2. By Telephone.  Call 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time to order current or prior year forms and instructions or IRS publications. Hours of service in Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific Time. You will receive your order by mail, usually within 7 to 10 days.

3. In IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers.  There are Taxpayer Assistance Centers located across the country where you can pick up many IRS forms and publications. IRS offices also offer face-to-face help for taxpayers who want personal tax assistance.

To find the Center nearest to you, visit and click on “Help & Resources” and then “Contact Your Local IRS Office.” Select your state for a list of offices, as well as a list of services available at each office. You can also find a Center near you by using the “Office Locator” link, which allows you to search by using your zip code.

4. In Your Community.  Many libraries and post offices offer free tax forms during the tax filing season. Some libraries also have copies of commonly requested IRS publications.

For additional information about free IRS tax products and services, see Publication 2053A, Quick and Easy Access to IRS Tax Help and Forms, and Publication 910, IRS Guide to Free Tax Services.