Outreach Program Making Inroads
BVA’s initiative to reach out to service personnel blinded in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to enjoy increased progress and momentum.
According to Director of Government Relations Tom Zampieri, Operation Peer Support’s mission to connect combat-blinded veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam with newly blinded veterans has been the subject of both media coverage and interest from organizations who wish to support the program financially.
“The connections have occurred in a number of ways and settings, from conference calls and visits at Walter Reed and Bethesda to actually hosting these brave Americans at our national conventions,” said Tom.
Seven veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and one from Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) participated in the 61st National Convention last August. Tom hopes that the number can be more than doubled in Albuquerque, a feat that appears more realistic than ever with financial assistance already provided by Health Net Federal Services, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, the American Optometric Association, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Allergan Foundation.
“We are working feverishly to again raise funds from individuals, organizations, businesses, and corporations to bring 16-20 individuals and a companion to our 62nd National Convention,” he said. “This is probably our next big step in taking Operation Peer Support to the next level.”
In addition to the connections that will naturally be formed as a result of their attendance, Tom said that BVA is working to expand the range of activities available to the newly blinded military personnel.
“We hope to include speakers on employment opportunities, technology, and new medical treatments for blindness and low vision.”
Operation Peer Support began in response to the physical and emotional isolation that often occurs for those who have only recently lost their sight. The premise is that connecting with other veterans, who are among the few who understand what they are truly going through, will help the new veterans understand their options.
DoD has reported that between March 2003 and April 2006, 16 percent of the wounded personnel evacuated from Iraq experienced serious eye injuries. BVA is attempting to locate and offer services to as many of them as possible. Regional groups or BVA members who become aware of such individuals, or who know of any funding sources for Operation Peer Support, are encouraged to contact Tom Zampieri at the Association’s National Headquarters.
BVA Seeks Applicants for Northeastern Office
Applications are sought from blinded veterans interested in the position of Field Service Representative for Region I, which is based in Boston. BVA members are encouraged to apply and/or make the opportunity known to qualified blinded veterans throughout the country.
BVA Field Service Representatives provide a range of services to blinded veterans and their families, including benefits counseling, representation as a National Service Officer, and referral to VIST Coordinators and other VA service points. Field reps also monitor BVA volunteer office activities, assist regional groups, and work to promote the Association’s national programs. They also serve as role models for other blinded veterans. Some travel is required.
Applicants must be veterans and at least legally blind. They must possess a B.S. or B.A. degree, preferably in the social sciences, and have good mobility skills. They should also demonstrate superior written and oral communication and interpersonal skills. Past experience or association with VA BRS and VA in general is desirable.
The position is a career opportunity with potential for advancement. BVA offers a salary commensurate with education and work history, a benefits package, and opportunities for travel and training.
For further information or to apply, please call Stephen Matthews, National Director of the Field Service Program, at 202-371-8880 or 800-669-7079. Resumes may be mailed to BVA National Headquarters, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, or faxed to 202-371-8258.
Bob Gold Takes Over Region 5 FSP Duties
Region 5 has a new Field Service Representative replacing Peter Link, who retired on December 31, 2006.
Dr. Robert “Bob” Gold served as a Captain in the Medical Service Corps of the U.S. Army following basic training. Upon discharge from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he worked as an intern at the Industrial Home for the Blind, after which he accepted a position at the Albany Medical College. He was Chief of the Low Vision Clinic and was appointed Associate Professor of Ophthalmology.
Recently appointed Field Service Representative Dr. Robert Gold, Rocky Mountain Regional Group.
Bob received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1967 and became a Doctor of Optometry in 1970. While at Albany Medical College, Bob was appointed to the staff of the Albany Association of the Blind. In 1975 he was awarded a Diplomate in Low-Vision Rehabilitation and received a similar Diplomate in the field of Contact Lenses in 1980.
Bob has worked as a consultant to the New York State Commission for the Visually Handicapped and was elected to the Board of Directors of both the Albany Association of the Blind and the Glens Falls Association for the Blind.
Bob has authored several articles in the field of low vision. He has also written a chapter on low vision for the textbook, “Age-Related Macular Degeneration.”
Ironically, in 1994, Bob was stricken himself with low-vision optic atrophy, which limited his ability to read, write, and work. With low-vision aids and training, he once again takes care of his partially sighted patients. In 2005 he was elected as a fellow of the International Academy of Low-Vision Specialists.
BVA Member Hosts “Veterans Forum”
PJ Scott of the Washington Regional Group currently hosts and produces a half-hour monthly television program entitledVeterans Forum. The program can now be seen and/or listened to via the Internet.
“This program has never finished lower than third among the most viewed local programs,” said PJ, who credits the large viewership to the three Navy bases and a larger-than-average veteran population in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Veterans Forum in April featured 93-year-old Legionnaire Bill Davis speaking about his father’s military exploits during the Spanish-American War, the Asiatic Fleet, and the Great White Fleet of Teddy Roosevelt’s Administration. Joining Davis was Retired Navy Captain George Beida of the Bremerton, Washington Naval Museum and Ed Rasmussen, Former Deputy Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In honor of Mother’s Day, PJ will be interviewing two Navy women in May. She will feature Mike Gregoire, the husband of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, in June.
PJ also hosts a quarterly program entitled “Resources for the Blind” in which she interviews representatives of organizations of and for the blind. Next up will be a representative of the Lions Club. Last year she interviewed VIST Coordinator Walt Werkhoven.
PJ lost much of her vision when she was exposed to radiation while in the Navy. She can still see outlines of objects and must wear dark glasses during show tapings to protect her eyes from the bright studio lights.
For additional information about Veterans Forum and its broadcast schedule, go to www.bitv.org/schedule.shtml.
BVA, VA Volunteers Make Huge Mark
Hundreds of blinded veterans nationwide continue to make life better for fellow veterans through dedicated, selfless acts of service.
“To me, it’s something I enjoy immensely because I know I am making things happen that would not otherwise get done,” said Charlie Franklin Smith, President of the Rocky Mountain Regional Group. For some 12 years Charlie has made regular visits to the blinded veterans in nursing care on the ground floor of the Denver VA Medical Center.
Charlie also attends a regular meeting of Field Service Officers with the medical center director in which representatives of local veterans service organizations receive briefings on hospital events and issues.
“In many cases, my visits to the hospitalized veterans, accompanied by my dog, Lizabeth, are the only ones these wonderful people receive,” he said. “The visits, sometimes very emotional but still rewarding, are a way that I can give something back to those who have sacrificed for me and my country.”
Charlie, fellow regional group member Charlie Watson, and some 225 other volunteers were recognized with pins and certificates for their service during 2006 at the medical center’s annual volunteer awards luncheon. The event was held April 14 at Denver’s Park Hill Golf Course. Charlie Watson has logged some 5,400 volunteer hours over a 15-year span. Charlie Smith has 1,650 hours during the past 12 years.
The two Charlies and their impressive hours of service are matched by other BVA members in a number of regional groups across the country. They hold true to a clause contained in BVA’s 1958 Congressional charter in which members are directed to provide mutual aid and professional assistance to each other, one individual at a time.
The aforementioned Denver luncheon was held in conjunction with National Volunteer Week April 15-21. More than 88,000 volunteers at VA medical facilities worked 12.5 million hours in 2006. The VA Voluntary Service Program is the largest volunteer program in the government and one of the largest in the country. VA estimates the time volunteered to VA equates to nearly $225 million annually.
Ira Tiggs Recognized
With a little help from loyal friends and family, dedicated BVA member and volunteer Ira Tiggs, Illinois Regional Group, recently celebrated his 90th birthday in grand style.
The March 4 gathering was attended by some 100 well-wishers. Organized by Ira’s Church of God congregation and held inside the church’s annex, the program featured a tribute and certificate presentation by Regional Group President Johnny Williams. It also consisted of six musical selections and remarks by nine additional friends.
Ira joined BVA in 1993 and has served as his regional group’s chaplain most of the time since.
“This was an especially important event for me personally because of the impact Ira has had on my life and the lives of other BVA members,” said Johnny. “He was at least one of the key people who encouraged me to join BVA and then later to run for president of our group.”
In addition to his wife, Aletha, and all four daughters, BVA member Henry Solomon and VIST Coordinator Sheila Sims (Chicago Health Care System West Side Division), were also on hand to support Ira.
The written program highlighted a favorite Ira Tiggs saying:
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can steer someone right who may be traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.”
Board Photos, Bios Uploaded to Website
Digital photographs and brief biographies of each of the 11 members of the BVA Board of Directors were recently uploaded to the BVA national website. The addition is an opportunity for BVA members who are not able to attend national conventions to become acquainted with those who represent them as national officers and district directors.
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