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
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
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.