British Blinded Veterans to Join U.S. Comrades in Galveston
Veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have lost their sight
while on active duty will host six of their British Army counterparts at
the Hilton Galveston Island Resort in Galveston, Texas, Aug 19-24
during the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) 67th National Convention.
The exchange between the two groups is part of BVA’s Project Gemini
initiative, an outgrowth of its Operation Peer Support program that
encourages mentoring and role modeling for veterans who are adjusting to
blindness and family members who must also make adjustments in their
Project Gemini is a joint effort of Blind Veterans UK of London,
England, and BVA, which is headquartered in Washington, DC. In May 2012,
five American blinded veterans, four of them blinded in combat during
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), traveled to England for a six-day
educational exchange to share knowledge, insights, and friendship with
their British comrades. The highly successful exchange resulted in plans
for British veterans to travel to Galveston for the BVA convention.
Topics addressed during the six days together will include blind
rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive
vision technology for war-blinded veterans. The BVA Operation Peer
Support group has planned several activities in Galveston, including air
rifle practice, kayaking, and self defense. During the exchange,
veterans will visit with American military staff and VA medical
personnel engaged in vision research and discuss best practices for
treating the war eye injured and vision loss related to Traumatic Brain
Veterans will visit the 1877 sailing ship Ellisa early in the week.
On August 23, they will visit a large collection of World War II planes
at the Lone Star Flight Museum and NASA’s Mission Control Center, tour
the Space Vehicle Mock-up Training building, and meet with current
Making the Trans-Atlantic journey to the convention are Blind
Veterans UK members OIF veteran Army Corporal Simon Brown and
Afghanistan veterans British army Corporal William Drinkwater, Corporal
Ken Facal, Sergeant Billy Baxter, Gunner Colin Williamson, and Private
Ben Shaw of Edinburgh, OIF who is representing Scottish War Blind (SWB).
They will be accompanied by friends and family members.
Welcoming the Blind Veterans UK delegation will be BVA National
President Sam Huhn and Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom
Zampieri. They will also be greeted by Christina Hitchcock BVA
Convention Director and more than 150 BVA members consisting of blinded
veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and 14 OIF
and OEF war-blinded veterans.
During the week, staff from the Department of Defense (DoD)-VA Vision
Center of Excellence will also meet with the group of blinded veterans
and welcome them to vision ophthalmology research meetings held in
conjunction with the annual BVA convention.
Operation Peer Support, which began in 2006, brings together veterans
of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in earlier
wars. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have
recently lost their sight with opportunities to interact with men and
women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness
and who can serve as role models. The exchange with veterans from the UK
dates back to 2008 when BVA invited three blinded British service
members to attend its 63rd National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona.
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 shortly after the outbreak of
World War I. BVA traces its beginnings to a meeting of a group of 118
war-blinded servicemen on March 28, 1945, at Avon Old Farms Convalescent
Hospital near Avon, Connecticut.