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Vets' organization in Pennsylvania goes strong

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jim Riemer, 61 of Jefferson Township is the newly elected president of the Keystone Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

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By Bill Vidonic
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

James E. Riemer wanted to get back to bowling nearly 15 years ago after he was permanently disabled in a fall from a roof.

Through the help of the Keystone chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Riemer was once again able to roll a strike. From there, Riemer found a cause and started working with the organization to help other disabled veterans.

Riemer, 61, of Jefferson, Butler County, was elected president of the Keystone chapter, the organization announced last week. He is one of several Western Pennsylvania veterans who head the chapter of about 290 members. The national PVA has about 19,000 members, according to Sherman Gillums Jr., associate executive director of the PVA's veterans benefits department.

“We're going to continue to tell the stories of the individuals and the impact of a lot of changes that are happening today,” Gillums said. “As the Veterans Administration transitions and society transitions, we need to make sure our members don't get lost or forgotten.”

“We do whatever we can get (disabled veterans) do to,” said Riemer, 61. “We try to get them out, to help their quality of life through sportsmanship and recreation.”

The organization represents service people who were injured on active duty and veterans who were injured or became sick with such diseases as multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Members of the state chapter make frequent visits to Veterans Affairs department facilities, including those in Butler, Pittsburgh, Erie and Altoona, to visit patients to make sure they're getting quality care and to lift their spirits, Riemer said.

“If Jim thinks there's something I need to know, he has no problem coming in and seeing me,” Tom Parsons, chief of rehabilitation and prosthetics at the VA Butler campus, said of Riemer.

The national and local chapters help veterans participate in the National Wheelchair games and in other sports. They provide information to doctors and hospitals about the latest in adaptive equipment to make life easier for the vets at home.

Riemer, a Navy veteran who had two years of active duty at the end of the Vietnam War, fell from a roof while working a contracting job on April 1, 1985. He retained limited use of his arms, but is considered a quadriplegic.

Riemer has served as the chapter's treasurer, sports director and vice president.

The national and local chapters rely on donations, including corporate and individual contributions and does not receive government funding.

“Your chapter becomes your family,” Gillums said. “They understand what you're going through. They're the ones that have undergone the care, and they know if it's adequate. They're willing to speak truth to power.”

In addition to Riemer, local elected officers include: George M. Neelan, 71, of West Deer, vice president; and William D. Jakovac, 62, of Shaler, treasurer.

Riemer and Bill Jakovac were re-elected to the chapter's board in July, along with Jerry Baylor of Leechburg and Tom Strang of Cecil. Other state board members are: Christopher Fidler of Jonestown, Gary Orlando Sr. of Erie, and Benjamin M. Williams of Washington.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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