Around BVA...


White Cane Day Events Provide Vital Forum

BVA regional groups, VA support groups, and individual blinded veterans across the country once again organized a wide range of events and activities highlighting the significance of White Cane Safety Day.

The official day, always October 15, was also marked by a White House proclamation signed by President Obama. Actual events commemorating the day occurred throughout the month of October. VA employees stop by White Cane Safety Day table manned by Illinois Regional Group members Henry Solomon, left, and Johnny Williams. In background, blinded veteran Rick Olson with a third VA staff member.
VA employees stop by White Cane Safety Day table manned by Illinois Regional Group members Henry Solomon, left, and Johnny Williams. In background, blinded veteran Rick Olson with a third VA staff member.

Requests for BVA informational and promotional materials relating to White Cane Safety Day have skyrocketed in recent years as regional groups take advantage of opportunities to educate the general public. This year BVA National Headquarters received and filled more requests than ever before. Energetic VIST Coordinators and other BRS personnel at local VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics also requested BVA materials in record quantities for distribution during their planned activities.

“White Cane Day gives us a chance to inform others about blindness and the issues of safety that are always of concern to us as blind individuals,” said Juan Olmeda, Puerto Rico Regional Group. “Just as important in some cases, I think, is the opportunity the day gives us to spread the word about BVA and all that the organization does to serve blinded veterans and keep them traveling safely on sidewalks, roads, public transportation systems, and in stores, restaurants, and recreation centers.”

Prestigious RFB&D Award Presented to Arizona Vet


Dan Standage, Southern Arizona Regional Group, is one of three recipients of the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award presented annually by Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), the nation’s largest provider of educational audio textbooks.

The prestigious award recognizes academic excellence, extraordinary leadership, and service to others. Hundreds of students apply each year and are selected by committees of RFB&D staff, volunteers, board members, parents, and educators. The number of applicants more than doubled in 2010.

“Dan’s selection for this award is certainly no fluke,” said RFB&D Director of Media Relations Doug Sprei. “Although the competition for it is keen, he really stands out for all he has accomplished the past few years.”

Top winners such as Dan received a $6,000 cash award and a trip to Washington, DC. All of the students honored have prospered in their educational pursuits thanks in part to their extensive use of audio textbooks and assistive technology provided by RFB&D.

“Both BVA and RFB&D have played significant roles in my life and have contributed to my success on many levels,” said Dan. “I want to see how I can use my bit of recognition to model similar behavior to other blinded vets in the hope that they get involved in education and prepare themselves to be effective leaders.”

Dan serves as a Coordinator in the Veterans Reintegration and Education Project at the Disability Resource Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He lost his sight as a result of a reaction to a vaccination he had received for Japanese Encephalitis while stationed in the Marine Corps at Okinawa, Japan, in the 1990s.

“Later on, school became the conduit for me to change my life, requiring me to learn completely new ways of doing things,” he said. “Reading books in audio format was a significant step forward for me, and having equal access to the same material meant that the focus remained on the course, not the disability.”

Board Seeks Candidates for Executive Director Post


The Blinded Veterans Association is seeking applicants for the position of Executive Director at its national headquarters. The selected applicant will begin functioning in the position on January 1, 2012.

The Executive Director, who must be a blinded veteran and a member of the Association (Article VIII, Section 1 of the BVA National Bylaws), is the Chief Executive Officer of the organization. The position is responsible for the overall functioning and performance of the BVA staff; the carrying out of directives, instructions, and policies legally adopted by the National Board of Directors and/or by Association members in convention; and ensuring compliance with the laws and regulations to which BVA is subject.

Candidates must possess the following:

  • At least a Bachelor's Degree; Master’s Degree preferred
  • A minimum of three years experience in administration/management and supervision, preferably with experience gained from working in either a Veterans Service Organization or nonprofit association
  • Experience with organizing and conducting Board meetings and associating with Board members
  • Knowledge of financial accounting practices, budget preparation, and understanding and interpreting financial statements 
  • Fundraising experience
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills, decision making, and interpersonal skills
  • Attendance and successful completion of a training program at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center
  • Proficiency in the use of tools and materials unique to the blind and visually impaired (Braille, screen reader technology, magnification devices, etc.)
  • Computer literate and proficient with computers and office software
  • Mobility proficiency
  • Experience in Government Relations preferred
  • Experience in planning and conducting conventions preferred

Applications/resumes directed to the attention of the Executive Director are due at BVA National Headquarters no later than February 1, 2011. The location of the position in Washington, DC, will make relocation requirement. The position also requires travel as a BVA representative to other conventions, meetings of other VSOs, and to events of other organizations of and for the blind.

Tom Miller Honored at Hadley School


BVA Executive Director Tom Miller was the recipient of this year’s Hadley School for the Blind President’s Award. He joined the 2010 student award winners in sharing his life experiences with trustees, donors, instructors, staff, and guests during the school’s Annual Meeting of the Board of Trustees on October 7. BVA Executive Director Tom Miller
Tom received the recognition for his “lifelong advocacy on behalf of our nation’s visually impaired and blinded veterans.” Prior to joining BVA as its Director of Government Relations in 1985, Tom served as Chief of the Waco, Texas, Blind Rehabilitation Center and as National Secretary, Vice President, and President of BVA in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Tom joined BVA as a life member in 1968 shortly after losing his sight as a result of a landmine explosion in Vietnam.

“It was truly an honor for me to receive the Hadley School for the Blind President’s Award for 2010,” said Tom. “The Hadley School has played a very relevant and pivotal role in assisting blinded veterans in the acceptance of and adjustment to vision loss.”

According to Tom, the accessibility of Hadley’s programs to blinded veterans has been one of its key strengths. BVA, he said, has never been hesitant to recommend that its members become students of Hadley and take full advantage of its courses and programs.

“Having access to essential educational and training opportunities is absolutely critical if people who lose their vision are to succeed in life,” he said. “The Hadley School has fulfilled that role for blinded veterans in an extraordinary manner for many years.”

2011-12 Scholarships Available For Blinded Vet Dependents


BVA will award six Kathern F. Gruber scholarships for the 2011-12 academic year, according to Brigitte Jones, BVA National Administrative Director. 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 accepted once they are awarded.

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. However, 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 Friday, April 15, 2011.

Funds To Be Awarded by National Auxiliary


The Blinded Veterans Association Auxiliary (BVAA) will award two Renee Feldman scholarships worth $2,000 and one worth $1,000 for the 2011-12 academic year. As was the case with the Gruber awards, the Feldman 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 Saturday, April 30, 2011.

For further information and an application, available in early January 2010, contact Hazel Compton, BVAA Scholarship Chair, P.O. Box 267, Richlands, VA 24641, or by telephone at 276-963-3745. The materials are also available at www.bvaaux.org or www.margbva.org.

Vermonters Organize New Regional Group


The White River Junction Vermont Regional Group, approved by the BVA National Board of Directors at its mid-winter meeting last March 5, received its official charter at the Awards Banquet of the 65th National Convention.

Efforts to organize BVA’s newest group, which covers the 14 counties of the State of Vermont, were spearheaded by OIF veteran and two-time Operation Peer Support participant Scott Carruthers.

Scott, who hails from the town of Eden, Vermont, will serve as the group’s first secretary/treasurer. The president is Charles Grammer and the vice president is William Signs.

Houston Volunteers Recognized


The extraordinary volunteer efforts of BVA members from the Greater Houston Regional Group were mentioned in an article written by Karen Petty, Director of Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR) at the Houston VA Medical Center.

VISOR programs teach veterans some of the same skills they learn at the residential Blind Rehabilitation Centers but are shorter in duration and have greater focus on applying the skills learned outside the center.

“The VISOR program is extremely fortunate to have incredible volunteers as an active part of the program,” Petty wrote. Each of these volunteers plays a vital role in its daily operations, and their positive attitude, warmth, and willingness to remain active and involved serves as a model to others that there really is life after vision loss.”

Individual photos of BVA member volunteers Larry Rucker, Ronnie Anderson and his faithful guide dog Marvin, Charles Davis, Leroy Sanders, Gerald Bacus, and Matthew Bihms accompanied the article.

Booklet Details McGee Blind Rehab Experience


Blinded veteran William “Bill” McGee, Northern California Regional Group, has recently published “Learning to Cope with Sight Loss: Six Weeks at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center” through BMC Publications of San Francisco, California.

The easy-to-read, 36-page booklet recounts Bill’s loss of sight and his subsequent day-to-day experience at the VA Western Blind Rehabilitation Center (WBRC) in Palo Alto, California. It outlines the basic facts of the Center and the program components and skills taught, including accommodations, food service, nursing staff, Visual Skills, Orientation and Mobility, Living Skills, Manual Skills, Computer Access Program, Recreation Therapy, and Family Training.

The publication, also available online and on audio CD, explains how this instruction and training improved Bill’s sight loss coping skills. Bill further reveals in the booklet why he believes it was especially important that he was at the WBRC when he was.

“This is the best-written description of VA’s blind rehabilitation program that I’ve seen and an invaluable tool for veterans considering participation in one of the regional centers,” said Patrick J. Caskey, M.D, North Bay Vitreoretinal Consultants.

In an agreement reached October 1 with Tom Miller, BVA will be the exclusive representative of the BMC publication to the blinded veteran market.

“In order to reach this market, BVA is the perfect arm to reach out and inform the many thousands of military veterans living with sight loss or low vision,” said Bill. “If my booklet or audio CD inspires a fellow veteran to ‘get up off the couch’ and seek help, then my objective will have been accomplished.”

Bill McGee was raised on a Montana ranch. At 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1946. After the war, he returned to cowboy life, working as a dude wrangler on a Nevada ranch south of Reno, Nevada. In 1950, he made a successful transition into the radio and TV field, where he enjoyed a 32-year career.

In addition to the booklet, Bill is the author of many additional titles, including the acclaimed Pacific war trilogy Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in World War II and Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942-1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini, Naval Armed Guard in the Pacific.

Bill is also a member of Broadcast Legends and Western Writers of America.

For more information or to obtain a copy of “Learning to Cope with Sight Loss: Six Weeks at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center,” contact Christina Hitchcock at BVA National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, Ext. 3303, or at chitchcock@bva.org.

Summer Issue Clarification


The Bulletin reported in its Summer issue Around BVA section (page 26 in the print version) on a book written by New York Regional Group member C.W. Miles.

The blurb erroneously stated that C.W. was 100 percent service-connected for blindness as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. While Agent Orange has been established as a contributing factor to eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, which can result in service connection, it is not possible for a veteran to be service connected for blindness due to Agent Orange exposure alone.

BVA Bulletin Now Distributed by Email


BVA members and other Bulletin readers may now receive each issue of the publication via email. A PDF version will present the issue exactly as it is mailed out but with the additional feature of color photos and graphics. A text version in the form of a Windows 2003 or 2007 Word file will not include the photos themselves but photo descriptions and captions similar to those provided in the issue’s recorded version.

The full text and art contained in every Bulletin issue will continue to appear first on the BVA website’s Bulletin page, www.bva.org/bulletin.html approximately one week before the print and audio versions are mailed.

To begin receiving the Bulletin by email, readers should contact Stuart Nelson at 202-371-8880, Ext. 3316 or at snelson@bva.org. They must provide their name and then specify whether their preference is PDF or text. They should also indicate whether they wish to discontinue receiving either the print or audio version, or both.

Bulletin Audiocassettes Soon To Be Obsolete


Hosts of organizations across the country, including BVA, were surprised to learn in early autumn that new audiocassette tapes would very soon no longer be available virtually anywhere in the world.

There is currently no availability of 90-minute tapes and 60-minute tapes may be available only for another year or less.

In response, assuming a supply of 60-minute tapes through June 2011, BVA has produced a condensed version of the current Bulletin on cassette and will hopefully do something similar for the winter and spring issues. Following the latter issue, the Bulletin will be distributed in a new format to be announced soon. The format will most likely involve a compact disc.

To read the current issue in its intended complete format, please use the print version or go to www.bva.org/bulletin.html.