U.S. Blinded Veterans Join with British Counterparts for Project Gemini Exchange in Southern CA. (9/29/2017) 
   U.S. Blinded Veterans Join with British Counterparts for Project Gemini Exchange in Southern CA.

U.S. Blinded Veterans Join with British Counterparts for Project Gemini Exchange in Southern CA.


(WASHINGTON, D.C., September 29, 2017) -- Members of the Congressionally Chartered Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and their counterparts in the Blind Veterans United Kingdom are gathering in the Irvine area to mark the 13th anniversary of the Major Charles R. Soltes Jr. OD Memorial Golf Event on October 9, 2017 at the Oak Creek golf course. This event will kick off five days of activities for the group throughout L.A. and Orange Counties.

Project Gemini, so named for the transatlantic cable that connects the U.S. with England and Europe, was established by BVA and Blind Veterans UK, in May 2011 Each year four U.S. blinded veterans are hosted at the Blind Veterans UK facility in Brighton, England, with four of their counterparts in the UK. Project Gemini seeks to raise public awareness of the issues facing war veterans with vision loss and help them individually to discover opportunities for their lives after blindness. On March 24 of this year, Project Gemini was recognized in the UK with the “Soldiering on Award 2017” in the International Category. The award acknowledges the outstanding achievements of those who have served their country. It also recognizes individuals and groups who successfully work together with the Armed Forces community in the United Kingdom.

The goal of each Project Gemini exchange that has taken place during the past seven years is similar. We all learn from one another and share our experiences in the areas of blind rehabilitation, adaptive technology, recreational sports, and vision research. This year’s Project Gemini exchanges also are recognizing the joint historical significance of the WWI centennial and the impact on the beginnings of war blind rehabilitation programs in America in 1917. This week’s events in Southern California will also emphasize the importance of increased cooperation, and understanding between the allied nations. Below are some details and dates concerning the week’s events.

WHAT: Blinded Veterans Association join Blind Veterans UK Counterparts, Irvine, Long Beach, and LA area events.
WHEN: October 8-14, 2017.
WHERE: Various locations in and around Irvine;

  • Monday Major Charles R. Soltes Jr. OD Memorial Golf Event at Oak Creek golf course
  • Tuesday visit the Gary Sinise Foundation, tour Hollywood Walk of Fame, visit American Legion Post #43 LA
  • Wednesday afternoon California Sailing Newport Beach
  • Thursday morning tour Blind Rehabilitation Center and blind archery
  • Friday International Rowing Center Long Beach, followed by White Cane Day at Long Beach VA Medical Center

BVA PARTICIPANTS: Maj Tom Zampieri (Ret.); First Sergeant Dan Wallace; Corporal Steve Baskis; Sgt. Monaca Gilmore; Petty Officer Scott Scieszinski, Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, Corporal Tina Limus; Corporal Nate Harrison, and Army Ranger volunteer Joe Amerling; all BVA participants are Gulf War I or Gulf War II era veterans.

UK PARTICIPANTS: Colin Williamson, President of Blind Veterans UK; Army Corporal John Robinson, Lance Corporal Mark Heaume, Trooper Darren Blanks, Corporal Christopher Strudwick, Corporal Kelly Ganfield, and Blind Veterans UK Sports and Recreation Manager Louise Timms.

For information, contact Tom Zampieri at (301) 204-3291or visit www.Soltesmemorial.com.


 British & US Blinded Veterans Unite at 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event (9/29/2017) 
   British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event

British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event


(IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, September 29, 2017) -- Six blinded American veterans and six British blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California on Monday, October 9, 2017. The Project Gemini group will join golfers for the annual competition to honor Major Soltes on Monday, at the Oak Creek Golf Club. In October 2004, Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq.

On March 24 of this year, Project Gemini was recognized in the UK with the “Soldiering On Award 2017” in the International Category. The award acknowledges the outstanding achievements of those who have served their country. It also recognizes individuals and groups who successfully work together with the Armed Forces community in the United Kingdom. The goal of each Project Gemini exchange that has taken place during the past seven years is similar. We all learn from one another and share our experiences in the areas of blind rehabilitation, adaptive technology, recreational sports, and vision research.

This year’s Project Gemini exchanges are also recognizing the joint historical significance of the WWI centennial and its impact on the beginnings of war blind rehabilitation programs in America in 1917. This week’s events will also emphasize the importance of increased cooperation, and understanding between the allied nations.

The participants will spend five days together in activities beginning with the golf event on Monday. On Tuesday, they will visit the Gary Sinise Foundation in LA, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and be hosted at American Legion Post #43. The remainder of the week will include: sailing with California Sailing at Newport Beach on Wednesday; a tour of the Maj. Charles R. Soltes Jr. OD VA Blind Rehabilitation Center, followed by blind archery on Thursday; and on Friday International Rowing, and a White Cane Day event at the Long Beach VA Medical Center.

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) is a non-profit Veterans Service Organization that uses funds raised at the golf tournament for its Operation Peer Support (OPS) initiative, which supports various events during the year. OPS bring together Gulf War I and Gulf War II era blinded veterans to share their experiences, and also participate in various sports events throughout the year.

The BVA veterans taking part this year include; Corporal Steve Baskis, Army First Sergeant Dan Wallace, Sgt. Monaca Gilmore, Specialist Tina Limus, Navy Petty Officer Scott Scieszinski, Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, Corporal Nate Harrison, and Army Ranger volunteer Joe Amerling (Ret.) all of whom are Gulf War I or Gulf War II era veterans. Maj Thomas Zampieri (Ret.) is a BVA board member and will attend for the sixth time. There are 5,000 men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by penetrating eye injuries. In addition, there are an estimated 35,000 wounded in the VA health care system with suspected TBI vision system impairments. UK Participants include: Colin Williamson, president of Blind UK; Army Corporal John Robinson, Lance Corporal Mark Heaume, Trooper Darren Blanks, Corporal Christopher Strudwick, Corporal Kelly Ganfield, BVUK recreation staff Louise Timms.

The goal of Project Gemini is to develop public awareness within the two nations regarding vision loss resulting from trauma, and the recovery process. The BVA was organized March 28, 1945. Its motto is “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans.” The organization connects veterans and their families to each other (www.bva.org). Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 as a charity whose purpose was to train and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. The organization has continued for 102 years, and gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, including those involved in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. http://www.blindveterans.org.uk

BVA and Blind Veterans UK are available for interviews and photos, during the day of the golf event or at other events during the Project Gemini week. For more information about the tournament and the day’s activities onsite, please contact (www.soltesmemorial.com) or Tom Zampieri at 301-204-3291 or Steve Baskis cell 270-404-6905.


 Blinded Veterans Seek Candidates for National Chaplain Post (9/8/2017) 
   Blinded Veterans Seek Candidates for National Chaplain Post

Blinded Veterans Seek Candidates for National Chaplain Post


The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) seeks candidates for the office of National Chaplain, a position appointed by a majority vote of a quorum of the members of the National Board of Directors.

The National Chaplain provides spiritual guidance and support to the blinded veteran membership at special events such as the national conventions, arriving early to greet members and guests and later conducting devotional exercises such as invocations and benedictions during individual business meetings and formal social events. He/she also composes a bi-monthly Chaplain’s Corner to be placed in each issue of the organization’s official publication, the BVA Bulletin. The purpose of the Chaplain’s Corner is to promote unity and generate both motivation and enthusiasm to Bulletin readers.

All National Board of Director positions within BVA are voluntary and uncompensated. The National Chaplain position, a Board position, does not include voting rights and travel and accommodations to the annual national convention are the responsibility of the individual.

The BVA National Bylaws hold that a vacancy in the office of National Chaplain shall be filled from among the Members, Associate Members, or Honorary Members in good standing. It is reviewed annually at the BVA Winter/Spring Board Meeting.

For consideration beginning October 15, 2017, please submit a cover letter and a sample Chaplain’s Corner of approximately 400 words via email to BVA Administrative Director Brigitte Jones, bjones@bva.org, and National President Joe Parker, nationalpresident@bva.org.

The legendary position of BVA National Chaplain was occupied by renowned blind rehabilitation pioneer Father Thomas J. Carroll, who helped lay the foundation for BVA’s now more than 72 years of service to the nation’s blinded veterans and their families.


 Life Membership Dues Returned to Previous Rates (9/6/2017) 
   Life Membership Dues Returned to Previous Rates

Life Membership Dues Returned to Previous Rates


A promotional life membership rate available to all prospective members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) throughout much of the organization’s Fiscal Year 2017 expired on August 1, 2017. The membership dues rates have returned to their previous schedule based on age and membership type.

Delegates appointed by their respective regional groups to the BVA 72nd National Convention narrowly defeated a proposed bylaw amendment on August 18 that would have extended the discounted rate into the future. A similar proposed bylaw amendment, passed in August 2016, offered life membership to all blinded veterans at a rate of $20.

The Life and Associate Life Membership rate prior to August 1, 2017, now restored and effective immediately, is $100 for veterans 44 years or younger, $88 for veterans 45-54 years of age, $75 for veterans 55-60, $63 for those 61-65, and $50 for veterans 66 and older. Annual membership dues, temporarily suspended last year, also return to the previous rate of $15 per year while a complimentary honorary life membership is available to World War II veterans.

A payment option is also available for life memberships if they cannot be paid in one lump sum.

Application forms in several formats, accompanied by an explanation of the qualifications for membership among the various membership types, along with an explanation of the acceptable supporting documents is also provided here.

As part of the application process, just as was the case during the promotional dues period, the membership form sent to BVA must be accompanied by the following items on official Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) letterhead or through Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST)/Veterans Health Administration examination notes:

  • Branch of Service
  • Beginning and Ending Dates of Services
  • Name of VIST Coordinator
  • Confirmation of meeting standards of blindness as follows—
    • ICD-9-CM Diagnosis Code 369.4 legal blindness, or
    • Visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye with corrective lenses, or
    • Visual field restriction to 20 degrees diameter or less in the better eye.

For more information about BVA membership, please contact Membership Coordinator Cecilia Montenegro at the organization’s National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, Ext. 315, or cmontenegro@bva.org.


 Blinded Veterans Establish Fund for Vets Affected by Harvey (9/1/2017) 
   Blinded Veterans Establish Fund for Vets Affected by Harvey

Blinded Veterans Establish Fund for Vets Affected by Harvey


The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), a national Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving and representing the needs of the approximately 130,000 blind and visually impaired veterans and their families nationwide, seeks to help the more than 1,800 such veterans currently living in one of the worst tropical storm flood zones in American history.

“As rains finally dissipate and floodwaters subside, many of our veterans will still be caught in the aftermath of this crisis for quite some time,” said BVA Executive Director Al Avina. “We are already aware of several of them who have been displaced from their homes and communities while some of them may need medical services that are currently not readily accessible.”

Avina said that many of the veterans with vision loss are also seniors who live in rural areas. Accordingly, BVA has set up a Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund to help the veterans who are currently struggling.

“We are asking all of our supporters throughout the nation for donations of any amount so that funds will be available to assist veterans in Texas and Louisiana who are blind, visually impaired, or with disabilities that are in addition to their vision loss,” he said.

Donations can be made through Network for Good by visiting https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1436199?code=HarveyRelief.

Now in its 73rd year of service and chartered by the United States Congress, BVA was founded by a group of 100 World War II veterans blinded in combat. Its mission is the creation of opportunities for blinded veterans to help one another. The organization offers a wide range of services to help veterans and their families meet the challenges of blindness. For more information about BVA and its services, call toll-free 800-669-7079 or visit bva.org.


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