Cheri Arnold is determined to bring attention to issues impacting veterans living with paralysis and other disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the deteriorating VA healthcare services in Washington, DC.
Arnold, 53, a Desert Storm veteran, member of United Spinal and wheelchair user, will join other prominent disability advocates at the 7th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill (ROCH), June 24-27 in Washington, D.C. She will speak directly with legislators on issues that affect the independence and quality of life of veterans and people with spinal cord injuries/disorders (SCI/D) and other pre-existing conditions.
One of the issues Arnold will be addressing is a recent 158-page report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General outlining “critical deficiencies at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center.” The report detailed how leaders in both VA regional and national oversight positions had “repeatedly been made aware of and failed to remediate” long-standing problems with core services.
“Advocating for other people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders makes me feel whole,” said Arnold, a member of United Spinal Association’s Arkansas chapter.
Arnold served as an Air Force Medical Technician and was initially injured when a lock mechanism on a gurney failed. After returning home in 1998, she experienced another injury when an automatic door at a grocery store malfunctioned leaving her as an incomplete quadriplegic.
Realizing she had to use a wheelchair to remain active in her community and confronting the realization that she could not resume a nursing career given her medical issues, Arnold was not deterred from finding a new path in life and new goals to fulfill.
“Although life may be different with SCI/D, it is not over – you can thrive,” added Arnold, who overcame depression after her injury by discovering a passion for hunting and shooting sports.
Since her injury, Arnold has become active with numerous organizations including Arkansas Freedom Fund, which offers rehabilitative recreational outdoor activities for veterans. She has also served on the board of directors for the MidSouth Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I feel that God put me in this position to change lives for the better and I don’t want to mess that up,” she added. “Since I have a background in nursing and caregiving, I found that I was a natural peer mentor.”
Arnold now helps others in her community overcome the hurdles of living with SCI/D. Her biggest inspiration comes from her four children and husband Wayne, a veterinarian and her service/rescue dog Molly, who is an amputee.
“Experiencing SCI/D can be overwhelming. Not only are you bombarded with doctors and rehab decisions, you also must learn how to live with new challenges. That’s why it’s so beneficial to talk face to face with someone who can relate and understands what you’re going through,” explained Arnold.
“As an average citizen, the opportunity to represent people with disabilities and injured veterans on the Hill in order to advocate for new laws, is a powerful reminder that that our voices can make a positive difference,” said Arnold. “United Spinal has allowed me to achieve this.”