Around BVA... 

 

Hoosier Volunteers Honored for Dedication, Excellence

 

Two outstanding volunteers from the Indiana Regional Group, already well-known among their peers for their service to veterans, were individually recognized and honored locally at the end of 2007. Both volunteers perform much of their work at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

“These two guys are always at peak performance in terms of their punctuality, dependability, and what they accomplish,” said VIST Coordinator Tom Grimmelsman, with whom the two work regularly. “They are very deserving of the recognition.”

BVA volunteer office manager Freddie Edwards received his recognition from the Indiana State Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Freddie, occupant of the office manager position for the better part of ten years, was named Indiana’s outstanding volunteer for 2007.

Longtime Indianapolis BVA Volunteer Office Manager Freddie Edwards.
Longtime Indianapolis BVA Volunteer Office Manager Freddie Edwards.

BVA Life Member John Riskka was similarly honored by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Council. John was chosen as the year’s most deserving volunteer within all of the Indianapolis area’s human service agencies. John has worked as a VA volunteer for approximately seven years.

“Both of these awards are something extra special because of the number of organizations and agencies that are drawn from in selecting these honorees,” said Tom.

Gruber Scholarship Deadline Approaching

 

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 www.bva.org/news/.


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

Applications Soon Due for Feldman Awards

 

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 or 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.

Idaho Group Responds to Governor’s Flag Order

 

BVA’s Gem State Regional Group recently secured and formally presented a POW/MIA flag to the southwestern area office of the State of Idaho Department of Lands.

With BVA members looking on, Bert Strom offers military salute after formally handing over POW/MIA flag to Department of Lands Area Supervisor Steve Douglas.  Photo courtesy of Alice Addington.
With BVA members looking on, Bert Strom offers military salute after formally handing over POW/MIA flag to Department of Lands Area Supervisor Steve Douglas.  Photo courtesy of Alice Addington.

Three regional group officers, four additional members, four spouses, and Boise VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Val Duffy were on hand for the presentation and hoisting of the new flag on February 4. Regional Group President Bert Strom conducted the ceremony and officially handed over the flag to Department of Lands Area Supervisor Steve Douglas and Graphical Information System Technician Robin Dunn, who is also a veteran of the Air Force.

Val described the proceedings for the BVA members who were not able to see them. Members attending, in addition to Bert, were Secretary Ken Kraft, Treasurer Bob Addington, Art Motz, Larry Blakeslee, Jim Near, and Marvin Hitchcock.

The group’s action came in response to an Executive Order signed by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on October 24, 2007 mandating that POW/MIA flags be flown with American and State of Idaho flags above all state-owned buildings. The state’s Division of Veterans Services accordingly requested that all state VSOs cooperate with agencies in helping to purchase and display the flags. The group actually purchased a second flag that will replace the first one after about six months.

Lois Kraft read the original Executive Order above the competing traffic noise just a few feet away. BVA members wearing their official caps then came to attention and executed a hand salute as all three flags were hoisted to the top of the pole.

“We have had a tough winter with many overcast and snowy days, but on this particular afternoon, significant to us, the three flags were hoisted into a very clear, blue sky,” said Bert.

Collaboration Counts for Wisconsin RG

 

The BVA Wisconsin Regional Group has recently reaped the benefits of working with other organizations of and for blind, most notably the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“I have had a number of chances to speak during Council seminars and to participate in their workshops as a representative of BVA,” said Regional Group Acting President Gary Traynor. “These types of opportunities provide the means by which we can reach blinded veterans throughout the state and inform them of benefits and services available to them, thus helping many more Wisconsin residents to live independently and with dignity.”

Gary also said that several blinded veterans have recently joined BVA as a result of the collaboration with the Wisconsin Council.

Front row, left to right: Herb Edwardsen, Jeanette Kapus, and Group Secretary Lyle Martin. Back row: Treasurer James Abrams and Acting President Gary Traynor.
Front row, left to right: Herb Edwardsen, Jeanette Kapus, and Group Secretary Lyle Martin. Back row: Treasurer James Abrams and Acting President Gary Traynor.

“We can usually accomplish much, much more by working together,” he continued. “The Council has been open to and excited by our participation, even to the point of amending their bylaws and reinstating an elected delegate from among the members of the BVA Wisconsin Regional Group.”

Of particular note is the five-person professional color guard provided by the regional group for the Council’s 55th anniversary celebration last November 10.
             

“Transition to Home” Now Available

 

Transition to Home: A Family Guide for Service Personnel and Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom is a 44-page handbook for newly blinded OIF and OEF veterans compiled and organized by San Antonio, Texas, BROS Bob Kozel, and Lake City, Florida, VIST Coordinator Judy Hayes.

Production of the new guide by BVA was made possible through a generous grant from ALCON, an international organization with a mission to preserve, enhance, and restore vision worldwide. Transition to Home is an offshoot of previous editions of A Spouse’s Guide, a booklet also compiled and updated multiple times by Bob Kozel.

Transition to Home’s contents and those of its precursors were extracted from numerous sources and contributors. It includes information about BVA and its Operation Peer Support initiative in the introduction, followed by sections on VA medical and benefit services, post-discharge health care, post-discharge education and training benefits, insurance programs, miscellaneous benefits for the severely injured, vision from a scientific and medical perspective, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, adapting the home to a vision impairment, and a miscellaneous section with helpful tips for individuals with visual impairments.

A series of annexes in the Family Guide cover VA BRS, provide important phone numbers and websites, give information about careers for spouses of blinded veterans, and offer a final note on Operation Peer Support.

To request copies of Transition to Home, contact Tom Zampieri or Stuart Nelson at BVA National Headquarters, 800-669-7079.

Minney Receives State Honor

 

The name Glenn Minney and his photograph became the latest addition to the Ohio State Bureau of Blind and Vocational Rehabilitation’s Wall of Accomplishment on December 6, 2007 at the agency’s annual holiday open house.

Glenn Minney’s name and photograph are placed on Wall of Accomplishment at Ohio state agency. The recognition highlights Glenn’s effective advocacy on behalf of fellow wounded veterans.
Glenn Minney’s name and photograph are placed on Wall of Accomplishment at Ohio state agency. The recognition highlights Glenn’s effective advocacy on behalf of fellow wounded veterans.


Glenn was the one and only “Accomplishment Honoree for 2007.” The award was presented to him for his ability to effectively transfer the skills he used in overcoming his own vision loss to, in turn, serve other veterans and the low-vision community as a patient advocate at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center.

Glenn enlisted in the Navy in 1985 and served as a Navy Corpsman for 21 years. He was assigned to several different Marine units, both active duty as well as reserve. He was activated and deployed to Iraq in January 2005.

While serving with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment on April 18, 2005, Glenn was wounded by mortar shrapnel while standing at the top of Haditha Dam, a 10-story high structure serving as a forward operating base for Marines and Corpsmen stationed near the Euphrates River Valley. Although not immediately recognizing the extent of his injuries, Glenn had suffered complete loss of sight in his right eye, partial loss in the left eye, and severe Traumatic Brain Injury.

Glenn underwent several surgeries in both Germany and at home at the National Naval Medical Center before returning to active duty at the “Wounded Warrior Barracks” at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He officially retired from the Navy in November 2006 when the patient advocate opportunity came his way.

Glenn was one of 18 OIF/OEF service members and veterans who attended the BVA 62nd National Convention last August as part of Operation Peer Support. He was also one of three Peer Support guests participating in a special skydiving exercise approximately 10,500 feet above Albuquerque.
            

Groups Launch New Websites

 

Add the Mid-Atlantic and Rocky Mountain Regional Groups to the list of regional groups who now have their own websites. The Mid-Atlantic site was up and running as of January 1 and the Rocky Mountain site was accessible on February 14.

“We are pleased to be able to make our group bylaws, group and chapter newsletters, meeting minutes, and details about upcoming activities more accessible to our members,” said Mid-Atlantic President Pete Davis.

Also available through the Mid-Atlantic site is contact information for regional group officers, chapter officers, and local volunteer offices within the regional group territory. It also contains copies of recent BVA National Headquarters Legislative Alerts.

For a look at the two sites, go to www.margbva.org and www.rmbva.org.

Internet Group Celebrates Ninth Anniversary

 

A mid-1990s BVA leadership training conference in Chicago initiated a lasting friendship.

The encounter also gave rise to an online support group of blinded veterans who would later communicate with one another regularly by email and voice conferencing. The concept behind the group, now known as VIVetNet, celebrated its ninth anniversary on January 17.

Ohio Regional Group Life Member and former Director of District 2 Dave May began exchanging email messages with Lyle Martin of the Wisconsin Regional Group shortly after the two had met at the conference.

“The joke coming out of Hines in those days was that blinded vets could use their newly issued computers either as doorstops or as gifts to their grandchildren,” said Dave. “Lyle and I believed, on the other hand, that the VA CAT (Computer Access Training) program had provided blinded veterans with an opportunity to communicate with fellow veterans using their new computers.”

The two also viewed the newly acquired computers and CAT instruction as an opportunity for BVA regional group leaders to share their knowledge and experience on subjects relating to VA benefits.

In early 1999, Lyle used a service called Talking Communities to set up a central email address to which everyone in a group could belong. Members could send a single message to all of the group’s members using just one address, which in those days was still a somewhat novel concept.

“We hoped to attract many members early on and were a little disappointed by the results,” said Lyle. “We were able to generate some publicity through Hines and placed information about the group in the CBRC Torch” (the newsletter of the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines).

Some three years later, Lyle asked Talking Communities if the group could add a private conferencing room. The answer was affirmative.

“VIVetNet has allowed us to establish relationships and network on subjects like the TEE Tournament, the Winter Sports Clinic, and VA benefits,” said Dave. “Often, one person knows more about something than the rest of us or has access to information that no one else in the group does.”

Dave said exchanges can be trivial at times but are nonetheless enjoyable. He also said that the forum is not generally one in which sympathy is sought or individual frustrations are vented.

“Most people don’t discuss their personal problems on VIVetNet,” he said. “We envisioned it as a practical tool and that’s pretty much what it has been.”

Despite the relative simplicity of purchasing and hooking up a microphone and headset to a computer, both Dave and Lyle believe that the process can still be intimidating and may prevent some blinded veterans from entering the VIVetNet conferencing room.

“Some may think it’s too much bother, but we can almost always walk a new user through the set-up process fairly easily,” said Dave.

Over the years, Dave and Lyle have periodically lamented that more blinded veterans have not participated in VIVetNet, often enough that on occasion they have contemplated shutting it down.

“Every time we’ve mentioned the possibility, we’ve received fairly strong feedback that we not do so,” said Lyle. “Based on that alone, I think this has been a successful venture.”

Members of VIVetNet meet informally in the online sessions 3-4 times a week at approximately 9 p.m. Eastern Time. For more information about the group and the possibility of participating, contact Lyle Martin at VIVetNet@wi.rr.com.

New Book Recounts Vet’s Korea Service

 

BVA Life Member William Stedman has written and published Korea: Tour of Duty and Beyond, a personal account of his tour of duty in the U.S. Military.

The book, published in 2001, chronicles William’s introduction to the military beginning at West Point; his exposure to plutonium radiation at Hanford, Washington; his 13-month tour in Korea; his stays at MASH 8055th and the 121st Evacuation Hospital; and his subsequent loss of vision.

For more information about Korea: Tour of Duty and Beyond, contact William personally after April 1 at 23 Mill Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538, or at 845-229-0644.