Blind Veterans UK to Host American Veterans in Brighton
Four blinded American veterans of the United States Armed Forces who
lost their sight and then became role models for others living with
blindness will visit their counterparts in England May 20-27 at the
Blind Veterans UK Brighton Centre.
All Army veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Specialist Steve
Baskis, Staff Sergeant Dexter Durrante, Captain Tim Hornik, and Sergeant
Mark Schrand, will travel across the Atlantic Ocean for a six-day
educational exchange to share knowledge, insights, and friendship with
their British comrades.
The initiative, known as Project Gemini, began last year as a joint
venture of St Dunstan’s of England and the Blinded Veterans Association
(BVA), headquartered in Washington, DC. In late May 2011, six veterans
made a similar trip with some of the same activities that await the 2012
group. Since the first trip, St. Dunstan’s has changed its name to
Blind Veterans UK.
The experience will again feature discussions about blind
rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive
technology for the blind. The BVA group will tour London, visit the
American Embassy, practice with air rifles, and engage in blind archery.
Accompanied by VA rehabilitation personnel with backgrounds in vision
research and best practices as they relate to battlefront eye injuries,
they will also visit with British military staff and rehabilitation
During the exchange, both groups of veterans 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.
Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri, who is legally
blind, will accompany the veterans. They will be joined by Col. Donald
Gagliano, M.D., current Director of the joint Department of
Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence
(VCE). Gagliano is an active-duty service member of 32 years. Also
participating will be Bobbi Hillen, VCE Associate Director of
Rehabilitation and Reintegration representing the VA Central Office at
the Center, and James Jorkasky, Executive Director of the National
Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR).
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 opportunities to interact with men and
women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness
and who can serve as role models and mentors.
In 2008, BVA sponsored the participation of three service members
from across the Atlantic at its 63rd National Convention in Phoenix.
Project Gemini returned the favor with the 2011 trip to England. St.
Dunstan’s was founded in 1915 shortly before the outbreak of World War
I. BVA traces its beginnings back to March 28, 1945 when a group of
war-blinded servicemen met at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near