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“USA Today” Highlights Combat Eye Injuries

Combat eye injuries experienced by service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan was the subject of two separate feature stories appearing in USA Today’s October 4 and November 14 editions, the latter of which constituted the day’s Section A “Cover Story."

Both articles were researched and composed by USA TodayCorrespondent Gregg Zoroya, who examined how the injuries occurred, the unique challenges to the recently blinded and their families, rehabilitation experiences and the learning of orientation and mobility skills, and the connection between vision loss and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Zoroya received much of his documentation, leads, and sources for the stories from Tom Zampieri, who referred him to recent Operation Peer Support convention attendees such as Ivan Castro, Glenn Minney, and Jesse Acosta, all of whom were quoted extensively in the November 14 article.

Gruber Scholarships to Again Assist Students

BVA will award six Kathern F. Gruber scholarships for the 2008-09 academic year, according to Brigitte Jones, Administrative Director at the Association’s National Headquarters.

The six scholarships are valued at $2,000 each.

The BVA Scholarship Committee will also select three alternates in case any of the awards cannot be subsequently accepted.

Gruber scholarships are limited to spouses and dependent children of blinded veterans, but the blinded veteran in question does not have to be a BVA member. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit by the Committee.

The awards are for a single academic year of study but recipients can re-apply to receive them a second, third, or fourth time.

Requests for scholarship applications can be addressed to BVA National Headquarters, Attn: Kathern F. Gruber Scholarship Program, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. They can also be addressed to Keleeba Scott at 202-371-8880. Information and applications are also located at

Completed applications must arrive at BVA National Headquarters no later than Monday, April 14, 2008.

Feldman Scholarships Available for 2008-09

The Blinded Veterans Association Auxiliary (BVAA) will award three $2,000 and two $1,000 Renee Feldman scholarships for the 2008-09 academic year. The scholarships are open to the spouses and children of blinded veterans and membership in BVA is not required.

To be eligible for a Feldman scholarship, the applicant must have been accepted at the school of his/her choice. The institution in question may be a vocational school, community college, four-year college, or university.
The fees in all cases are paid directly to the school and are intended to defray the cost of tuition, books, and general fees.

The application process for the scholarships includes supplying information about previous academic achievement, a statement of present goals and plans, a 300-word essay, and letters of reference. Completed application packets must be received no later than Thursday, May 1, 2008.

For further information and an application, write to Barbara Stocking, BVAA Scholarship Chair, 3801 Coco Grove Avenue, Miami, FL 33133. Potential applicants may also telephone Barbara at 305-446-8008.

White Cane Awareness Thrives in Virgin Islands


Virgin Islands blinded vet Ulyssie Fletcher and  Puerto Rico VIST Coordinator Evelyn Cancel
Virgin Islands blinded vet Ulyssie Fletcher and  Puerto Rico VIST Coordinator Evelyn Cancel

Three years of hard work finally paid off for an enthusiastic and ambitious BVA member in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Joe Cooler, Jr., Vice President of the Puerto Rico Regional Group and one of just five known BVA members in the Virgin Islands, first tried a White Cane Safety Day activity at the VA Clinic in St. Croix in 2005. It wasn’t until October 18 of this year that his efforts really began to bear fruit.

“Relatively speaking, we had a great crowd this year and much better than I would have ever anticipated,” said Joe. “We enjoyed educating the community on the significance of the White Cane and the technology that is available to the visually impaired.”

On hand for the event, which was also coordinated by the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, were Puerto Rico BRC Director María Nevarez and San Juan VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Evelyn Cancel. It was the first visit to the Virgin Islands for both of them. Also assisting at the event were Virgin Islands BVA members Ulyssie Fletcher and Robert Johnson.

“The event, besides creating public awareness about the White Cane, is also a great tool to locate the blinded veterans who may be here in the Virgin Islands who may not yet know about us,” he said.

Joe started preparing for the event in June. Because Thursday is “Lab Day” at the VA clinic and attracts more visitors, the decision was made to hold it three days after the official White Cane Safety Day.

In addition to inviting his visitors from Puerto Rico, Joe also prepared for the day by obtaining public relations help with the writing and distribution of pre-event press releases from VA Social Worker Marangeli Hendricks, who had also assisted him the previous year. He also found other means to contact local media, attracting interest by promising to display technology such as Scrip-Talk, Magic Software, and Pocket Viewer.

Joe went even further by making posters and obtaining pamphlets on a variety of eye conditions and diseases that lead to blindness in the aging veteran population. He found information on support services available to the blind and visually impaired in his community. Lastly, he requested that BVA send promotional materials to him.

This year marked the 43rd anniversary of National White Cane Safety Day. The first special White Cane ordinance was passed in Peoria, Illinois, in December 1930. It gave blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a white cane. In the early 1960s, organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving the blind and visually impaired urged Congress to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day in all 50 states. In 1964, a joint resolution of Congress authorized the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as National White Cane Safety Day. Lyndon B. Johnson was the first President to release such a proclamation. A record number of BVA regional groups and VA BRS personnel nationwide joined Joe in promoting White Cane awareness in 2007. Thousands of BVA membership brochures, fact sheets, 2008 educational calendars, decals, and pens were shipped to participants from BVA National Headquarters in late summer and early fall.

Regional Groups and VIST Coordinators interested in distributing BVA promotional items at such events should contact Stuart Nelson at National Headquarters, 800-669-7079 or 202-371-8880.

Bloomberg Pushes for Pennsylvania Proclamation

Pennsylvania Regional Group President Hank Bloomberg was influential in a Mayor/Council signing of a proclamation designating October 7-13 as “White Cane Awareness Week” in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. Hank’s efforts came in his capacity as President of the Clearfield-Jefferson County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.

Hank appears in a photo in The Progress newspaper with Mayor Patty Gilliland, Clearfield Borough Council President James Leitzinger, and two other officers of the county chapter. In the photo, Hank looks on as Gilliland designates October 13 as White Cane Education Day in the county.

Hank and his associates asked for the proclamation in order to raise awareness on issues concerning the blind. Several representatives from the chapter were stationed at a Wal-Mart Super Center on October 30 to distribute information about blindness and white cane safety.

NY Vet Earns President’s Volunteer Service Awards

BVA Life Member Ralph Chinelly, New York Regional Group, recently received both the Gold Volunteer Service Award and the Lifetime Call to Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

The two awards, which represent, respectively, hundreds of hours of dedicated voluntary service during the past year and thousands of hours over the past 15 years, were presented to Ralph on August 15 by his State Senator, Jim Alesi, at the East Rochester American Legion Post 1917 to which he belongs.

A collection of pins, certificates, and letters, including two of the latter from President George W. Bush, were part of the award presentation. Commending Ralph for earning the awards were letters from his Congresswoman, Louise Slaughter (D-NY-28), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

“Receiving both The President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award and The President’s Lifetime Call to Service Award is a monumental achievement,” Slaughter’s letter stated. “Dedicated people like you truly make our communities better places in which to live, and the commitment you have shown to volunteer service is an inspiration for us all to help others.”

Also participating in the awards presentation were Ralph’s wife, Madelyn, daughters Melissa and Kristine, and East Rochester Mayor James P. Bonacchi.

Massachusetts Chapter Honors VIST Service

David Armstrong, former VIST Coordinator in western Massachusetts, received a special certificate of appreciation from the BVA Western Massachusetts Chapter at the organization’s semi-annual meeting October 3.

David, who worked out of the Northampton, Massachusetts, VA Medical Center, received the recognition in a presentation made by Chapter President Horace Edwards. David recently returned to full-time social work after more than 20 years of coordinating services to blinded veterans.

“As a part-time Coordinator, Dave has been devoted and has sacrificed as much as he possibly could,” said longtime Massachusetts Regional Group President Leonard Greenblatt. “He has been extremely supportive and is an absolutely great guy. If you needed a prosthetic or anything else for that matter, he got it for you, no questions asked.”

BVA Field Service Director Steve Matthews, who crossed paths with David several times as the Region I Field Rep based in Boston, said that David’s dedicated service and professionalism made life better for countless blinded veterans. “He did all of the things that we would expect a full-time VIST Coordinator to do, and much more,” he said. “He ran the support group meetings flawlessly and gave his full attention to each veteran that needed his direction and expertise.”

Ivan Castro Runs 10-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon


Army 1st Lieutenant Ivan Castro addresses 62nd Convention attendees.
Army 1st Lieutenant Ivan Castro addresses 62nd Convention attendees.

Army 1st Lt. Ivan Castro, who last August attended the BVA 62nd National Convention with his wife, Evelyn Galvis, as part of Operation Peer Support, recently competed in the annual Army 10-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon near the Pentagon.

Both of Ivan’s feats came just a little more than a year after he suffered multiple wounds and the loss of his sight in a mortar attack in which he was lending fire support during a battle with insurgents. His participation in the two races was reported, respectively, in a Stars and Stripes Mideast edition piece by reporter Lisa Burgess on October 8 and the aforementioned USA Today article.

Ivan completed the Army 10-miler in one hour and 25 minutes, a pace of 8:50 per mile. He took four hours and 14 minutes to finish the 26-mile marathon, an even more amazing 9:46 per mile for a distance more than two and half times the Army race. His participation was facilitated by a running partner to whom he was attached at the arm by two white shoelaces.

Ivan reportedly came up with his goal to run in the two races while still in a hospital bed in October of 2006. Doctors questioned at the time whether he could make it even another week. A mortar round that killed two other soldiers had landed a few feet from him, sending shrapnel into his left side and damaging a shoulder, breaking an arm, fracturing facial bones, collapsing his lungs, and requiring the amputation of a finger. Still on active duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Ivan is a former weapons sergeant in the 7th Special Forces Group and a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He has met with Members of Congress and their staffs to discuss pending legislation affecting OIF and OEF service personnel.

Kansas Blinded Vet Publishes Book

Dr. Jack D. Wilkinson, BVA life member from the Kansas Regional Group, has published a heartwarming fictional account of four boys growing up in a small western Kansas town during the 1930s.
Sand and Thistles
, a 2006 publication, was written in the tradition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Booth Tarkington’s Penrod.

“It is a humorous story but with some tears here and there,” said Jack in his preface.

“The boys in the story are not mean, but just a little ornery,” he continued. They are ordinary for the time in which they live because they have to make do with anything they come across to entertain them. There isn’t TV or the many other things we have now.”

Jack was born in Parsons, Kansas, in 1929 and now lives in Chetopa, a small community on the banks of the Neosho River known as the “Catfish Capital of the World” in the southeastern part of the state. He was blinded as a result of a vehicle accident while serving in the Army and later became an accomplished licensed chiropractor, practicing for 40 years.
For more information about Sand and Thistles, contact Jack at P.O. Box 87, Chetopa, KS 67336, or at 620-236-7671.

Peer Support Participant Now Has Own Website

Blinded U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell has established his own website to tell his own story and that of the hundreds of other Marines who have given of themselves in OIF operations. The site’s URL is

Tim is one of the highest-ranking service members to be wounded in Iraq and an Operation Peer Support participant at the BVA 62nd National Convention.

The site is filled with photos and tributes to wounded Marines, their families, and the causes they have undertaken in Iraq. For the time being, Tim is both the content editor and webmaster for his site.

“I call my effort ‘The Team’ because I want other wounded to help me with this, and to send their stories, and to realize that they are not alone,” he said.

Tim is also designing a new shirt with a “Semper Max” logo for which he is also raising money to cover production costs.

Guide Dogs and Convention Heat

BVA members who have a service animal and who are thinking of attending the BVA 63rd National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, may wish to secure special boots to protect the animal’s paws. The boots are effective for dogs that must work in an area that becomes very hot in the summer and/or extremely cold in the winter.
For more information, contact Stuart Nelson at BVA National Headquarters.

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