IKK Representatives Gather in Rome

by Tom Miller

I had the good fortune of once again representing BVA at a meeting of the International Congress of War Blind Organizations (IKK). The most recent meeting, held every three years, was held in Rome, Italy, May 19-21.

During the meeting held at St. Dunstan’s in England back in 2006, President Italo Frioni of the Italian Association of the War Blind was elected President of IKK. This resulted in his hosting of the meeting this year. In addition to our representation, there were attendees from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, the Philippines, South Africa, and, of course, Italy. The occasion also marked the 30th anniversary of the Italian Association of the War Blind, which was celebrated during our stay. Several representatives of the Italian legislature were present to make speeches and promises for improved pensions.

During the course of the meeting, all representatives are, as a custom, requested to make presentations on the activities of their organizations during the past three years. The presentation includes an explanation of the benefits, services, and pensions provided to the war blinded in our respective countries.

As I have mentioned before to America’s blinded veterans and their families, it is always embarrassing for me, as the U.S. representative and the representative of BVA, to elaborate on our benefits and services. What we are blessed with is so comprehensive compared to the benefits provided in other countries.

We tend to take for granted all that is made available to us and seem to forget just how many opportunities we have as American veterans and citizens. In most cases, if a pension is even provided, it is minimal. In addition, other countries do virtually nothing in terms of rehabilitation. If services are provided, they are done so by the war blind organizations themselves and not by any government entity resembling VA BRS.

One very important topic for discussion during the meeting was the future of IKK. Most of the organizations represented are losing members very rapidly because World War II was their last shooting war. Several of the countries’ representatives expressed concern that their organizations may not exist three years from now when the next IKK meeting occurs.

What is most interesting to me is that all of the organizations aside from BVA have, as members, civilians blinded as a result of war. The civilian members clearly outnumber the war blinded service members nearly two to one. It is also important to note that membership in the other organizations is open only to those blinded in combat. Those who have lost vision subsequent to military service are not eligible for membership as they would be in our organization.

The newly elected President of IKK is Neville Clarence representing St. Dunstan’s South Africa War Blind. It is unclear if the next meeting will be held in South Africa or at St. Dunstan’s in the United Kingdom.