When Navy Veteran Al Kovach woke up after spinal surgery, he asked the nurse if he was still alive. She answered affirmatively, and he immediately began to plan for his future as a paralyzed Veteran.

Kovach, a former Navy SEAL, Paralympian and two-time LA Marathon champion, joins Borne the Battle to discuss his career as a disabled athlete, his time as President of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the impact and challenges of PVA.

The SEALs recruited Kovach out of nuclear power school due to his swimming career at Indiana University under legendary swim coach Doc Counsilman.

A parachute jump in 1991 went wrong, ending with Kovach undergoing surgery but never walking again. A member of PVA came to the hospital after he woke up to help him with his paperwork and transition to life as a paralyzed Veteran.

Living as a paralyzed Veteran allowed Kovach to return to competitive sports. He trained and competed in marathons, winning the LA Marathon twice and representing the USA in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. He also completed a transcontinental triathlon.

Kovach found a new community within PVA and became actively involved in the VSO. Paralyzed Veterans of America is a congressionally chartered Veteran Service Organization (VSO). There are many Veteran nonprofits, but a Congressional Charter recognizes VSOs that are experts in their field. Congress and VA recognized PVA’s expertise as leaders in medicine and care for paralyzed Veterans. PVA was founded in 1946 when, as Kovach explains, medicine advanced enough to save paralyzed Veterans’ lives.

In this episode, Kovach discusses his athletic career, PVA’s congressional advocacy, and the changes he and other members of the PVA fight to improve quality of life for all disabled Americans.


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Jana Jenkins is a podcast intern with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. She is an undergraduate student at the College of Saint Benedict studying Communication.

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Published on May. 17, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.4 min.

Views to date: 440


  1. John F. Haggart May 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    I have 2 spinal cord injuries plus damage to both my sympathetic and parasympathetic central neurvous system. I am ambulatory. Even still I struggle every single day. One cord injury is at T-12 L-2. This injury caused me to be in the operating room for 18 hours followed by weeks and weeks of being hospitalized. My second spinal cord injury is between C-4 and C-7. The injury caused me to wait 9 hours before I was stable enough to be brought from the recovery room to the PACU ICU. My body could not regulate it’s body temperature impart from my first spinal cord injury and damaged central neurvous system. The VA took care of me during the first. There was some serious issues involving the second injury. However, The VA is working with Walter Reed Naval Hospital located in Bethesda MD. Unfortunately, I most likely will need another surgery concerning my fused cervical spine. Again The VA is working with The United States Navy. Thank God! There are many Paratroopers with cord injuries to varying degrees. We suffer all the while at the same grieve for our Teammates from all Military Branches who suffer the same only not being ambulatory. This morning 20MAY2021 was extremely difficult. Yes I am prescribed medication for the effects. Yes, if I need to go to the VA Emergency Department THEY WILL MEDICATE ME in an effort to stop the suffering even though they it’s only going to get worse. I have a Care Giver. I am a 100% Service Connected Disabled Veteran with unemployability. I AM GREATFUL that I have my VA. Our VA. We give a good tongue lashing for The VA’s failures. Well guess what? The Samuel “Sam” Stratton VA Hospital located in Albany NY ( Named after United States Congressman Sam Stratton ) has really picked up their game. Beginning with The Emergency Department. With Cardiology ( people with cord injuries have cardiac issues ). With Neurology. We need our Spinal Cord Injury Team Back! We just do. I suffer from service connected Post Traumatic Stress. This is greatly affected by my cord and central neurvous system injuries. I applaud you Sir for having this forum. I am Greatful for The People who care about us while working for The United States Department of Veterans Affairs. AKA The VA. Anyhow
    Thank you. Respectfully yours. John F. Haggart.

  2. Skip Riffle May 20, 2021 at 11:09 am

    Al, I like the work you are doing for disabled veterans. I live in Naples Florida and am the president of Bikes For Tykes, Inc. a charity that ‘Re-cycles” unwanted bicycles into usable and near new condition , then give them away to those in need. I currently have several recumbent bikes that I would like to get out to disabled veterans, especially those in S.W. Florida. Since I started this charity in 1987 we have ‘re-cycled’ over 35,000 bikes to those in need. Since you are a spokesperson for disabled vets I was hoping that you could help me find homes for these specialty bike. I even have a couple of handicap trikes with straps for those in more serious condition. If you would be interested in helping Bikes For Tykes, Inc. I would appreciate a phone call, my cell number is 239-450-3366, or web site is http://www.BikesForTykes, Inc. and we are on Facebook.

    I am a USAF veteran and have lost my right leg, from a spider bite not in combat, so I know some of the problems disabled vets are going through.

    Thank you for your time and for what you do.

  3. Kristina Baar Young May 20, 2021 at 7:33 am

    I’m very glad to be receiving these post. I waited through the VA line at Daytona VA to get my COVID vaccination. After two hours in the line , I finally got to the injection delivery person only to find out that I couldn’t get the injection due to having an anapheletic reaction to some meds 30 years ago. I understand it was for my safety but it was two hours of wasted time. I feel there should have been a warning at the start of the line.

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