British Blinded Veterans to Host US Comrades in London

Several veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have lost their sight and then become role models for others living with blindness will visit their counterparts in the United Kingdom May 22-28.

Project Gemini, an initiative of St Dunstan’s of London, England, and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) will take six American blinded veterans, four of them blinded in recent combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, across the Atlantic Ocean for six days of educational exchange and the sharing of friendship, knowledge, and insights with their British comrades.

Participants of Project Gemini in front of Hever Castle in Kent, England, on May 23 as they kicked off a week of activities together 'across the pond.' Project Gemini is a joint initiative of BVA and St Dunstan's to help legally blinded U.S. and British veterans establish new friendships, share in their recovery experiences, and explore the latest in research and technology. Photo courtesy of St. Dunstan's Louise Timms.
Participants of Project Gemini in front of Hever Castle in Kent, England, on May 23 as they kicked off a week of activities together "across the pond." Project Gemini is a joint initiative of BVA and St Dunstan's to help legally blinded U.S. and British veterans establish new friendships, share in their recovery experiences, and explore the latest in research and technology. Photo courtesy of St. Dunstan's Louise Timms.

Subjects of discussion will be rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive technology for the blind. The two groups will also tour the British Parliament and visit with American military staff and embassy personnel at the U.S Embassy in London.

They will share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of the adjustment processes. They will compare the British veterans’ health care system with that of the American system operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and its dozens of component medical centers, outpatient clinics, and veterans’ homes throughout the country.

Also included in the week’s scheduled events are recreational rehabilitation activities such as kayaking, blind archery, and horseback riding. The group will participate in an audio tour of Hever Castle and visit the Imperial War Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and Brighton Dog Track.

Making the Transatlantic journey are Operation Iraqi Freedom blinded veterans Douglas Cereghin of Phoenix, Arizona; Jeffrey Mittman of New Palestine, Indiana; Andrew “A. J.” Tong of Snoqualmie, Washington; and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) blinded veteran Steven Beres of Lansing, Michigan. Beres is also BVA’s National Treasurer.

Other BVA officials joining the “St Dunstaners” are National President Dr. Roy Kekahuna, a Vietnam era veteran injured in combat, and Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri, who is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Major Derek Johnson, Executive Officer of the Department of Defense Vision Center of Excellence, will also accompany the group and participate in its activities.

Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in Vietnam, Korea, or during World War II. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have lost their sight recently with examples of and opportunities to interact with men and women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness

In 2008, BVA sponsored the participation of three service members from across the ocean at its 63rd National Convention. Project Gemini returns the favor on British soil.

St Dunstan’s was founded in 1915 shortly before the outbreak of World War I. BVA traces its beginning to 1945 when a group of war-blinded servicemen met at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, on March 28 of that year.