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 lives.

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 Injury.

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 astronauts.

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.