Project Gemini Offers Binding Link to Veterans of Two Nations

A joint initiative of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and Blind Veterans UK has again brought together veterans with vision loss from the United States and the United Kingdom. The occasion is this week’s exchange in Washington, DC in recognition of the centennial anniversary of World War I.

Now in its seventh year and known as Project Gemini for the transatlantic cable that connects the two countries and continents, the week of activities in the Nation’s Capital has included educational forums, key federal agency site meetings with leaders of such agencies, and visits with U.S. vision rehabilitation experts, eye trauma specialists, researchers, and Department of Defense (DoD) specialty leadership.

The group today visits Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, where the veterans will meet with the Director of the joint Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence and the Chief of Ophthalmology. They will also visit the Military Amputee Treatment Center and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence within Walter Reed.

“The goal of this DC exchange is much like the ones we have experienced in England and then in Chicago last year,” said BVA Government Relations Committee Chairman Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.) and annual coordinator of the exchanges. “We learn from one another and share best practices in the area of blind rehabilitation, war eye injury management, and current vision research advances so that our participants can be prepared to share them with officials in their home countries.”

The Wednesday activities later in the day include visits to each of the Washington, DC war memorials with special emphasis on the present-day, lesser known World War I Memorial.

Zampieri stressed the importance of the program in fostering mutual respect and understanding between the two allied nations as participants establish new friendships, share knowledge of blind and visually impaired rehabilitation services, and exchange insights and personal experiences regarding their own adjustment to blindness. The dynamics have been created this week as participants recognize the historical significance of World War I and the subsequent beginnings of blind rehabilitation programs in both countries.

U.S. blinded veteran participants are BVA National President and Vietnam War veteran Dale Stamper of Hayden, Idaho; Gulf War era veteran Monaca Gilmore of Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Gulf War I and II veteran Bryan Corcoran of Dayton, Ohio; and Vietnam era veteran Tom Zampieri of Pearland, Texas.

Participating from the United Kingdom are Blind Veterans UK President Colin Williamson and Royal Navy veterans Steven Birkin and Sue Eyles. Alan Walker, an Army veteran who served in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, will also make the trip along with Blind Veterans UK Director of Research and Innovations Dr. Renata Gomes.

The group’s activities continue throughout the week, culminating in a Friday evening farewell dinner.