Longtime Leader Retires

by Stuart Nelson

Tom Miller with his retirement clockDaily life at BVA National Headquarters will be quite different once January 6, 2012 has come and gone. The day marks Tom Miller's final one after 17 years as the Association's Executive Director and opens a most well-deserved chapter of his life known as retirement.

More than anything else, Tom looks forward to spending more time in his immediate future with grown children Gen, Trese, and Thomas J., and his six grandchildren.

Although Tom's legacy as BVA National Secretary, National Vice President, National President, Director of Government Relations, and Executive Director may now be firmly etched in the annals of BVA history, details of his future involvement and service will yet be reported down the road.

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Tom lettered in football, basketball, and baseball in high school. He graduated from the University of Detroit, where he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Biology in 1965. Shortly thereafter, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He attended the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.

Tom received orders to go to Vietnam in October 1967 just one year after his marriage. He served as a platoon leader and an executive officer of an engineering company involved in supervising the construction of strategic bridges, roads, and airfields. He also worked in clearing jungle areas for American military support personnel that were arriving in increasing volume.

Severely wounded in a landmine explosion in December of that same year while supervising the securing of an enemy mine field, Tom sustained multiple shrapnel wounds to his face, chest, abdomen, and legs. He lost his right eye entirely and all of the sight in his left eye. He was hospitalized for five months and thereafter attended and successfully completed residential training at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines. He left the Marine Corps ranked as a First Lieutenant.

Tom was a sales representative for a Detroit-based company for a short time after leaving Hines. Determined that he could better use his experiences to help other veterans returning from Vietnam, Tom entered Wayne State University's School of Social Work in Detroit. He earned a Master's Degree in order to pursue a career in counseling. While in graduate school, Tom also lost total hearing in his left ear.

Tom's new career took him to the VA Medical Center in Allen Park, Michigan, where he became a Social Work Counselor in the Mental Hygiene Clinic in 1973. As a member of the clinic's psychiatric team, he assisted many veterans and their families with a variety of emotional and adjustment problems. He received outstanding performance awards in both 1977 and 1978.

The July-August 1983 Bulletin, an edition that documents Tom's election as BVA National President, also notes his selection as Chief of the Waco, Texas, BRC in 1979 after an intense nationwide search for candidates. At Waco, Tom oversaw what was even then a comprehensive program of rehabilitation training for veterans from 16 different states. In addition to the national positions he held with BVA beginning in 1979, Tom also served as vice president of the North Texas Regional Group. He was named the outstanding Wacoan in the City of Waco in 1981.

Tom accepted BVA's offer to become Director of Government Relations in January 1986, acting as the organization's direct liaison to Congress, VA, and other agencies of and for the blind. His duties included managing BVA's legislative program, writing Congressional testimony, and presenting oral testimony before Congress. He continued in that function for several years even after his appointment as Executive Director in December 1994.

While in his present capacity at BVA, Tom has amassed a lengthy list of positions and accomplishments, all of which have enhanced BVA's image and prominence.

Since 1996, he has served as a Secretarial appointee and chairman of the Advisory Committee for Prosthetics and Special Disabilities Programs for VA. Since 1997, he has also chaired the National Advisory Council for the Rehabilitation, Research, and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University.

He currently serves on the Executive Council of the VA Veterans Health Administration's Visual Impairment Advisory Board and as part of the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center's National Advisory Group. He was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals in September 2003 and was elected Secretary of the Academy in October 2006. The following October he was elected Vice Chair.

In 1994, Tom was selected as the BVA delegate to the World Blind Union's North America/Caribbean Region. He was Second Vice President of the International Congress of the War Blinded (IKK) from October 2006 through May 2009. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of Nonprofits and was Chairman of the Combined National Veterans Association of America. He is a former member of the Board of Directors for both the Central Texas Lighthouse for the Blind and the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. He was elected to the Board of Directors of VisionServe Alliance in April 2010.

Tom received the Hadley School for the Blind President's Award in October 2010.

Tom Reflects on Tenure

 

I express my deep appreciation to the BVA National Board of Directors, National Headquarters staff, and the entire BVA membership for all of the years of support I have received as an employee of BVA. I am especially grateful for your support during my 17 years as Executive Director.

The opportunities BVA has provided me, coupled with the confidence in me that so many members have demonstrated at one time or another, have been truly humbling. One never knows just where life will take him or her. After losing my vision in Vietnam, I was blessed with opportunities beyond my imagination. These came about largely because of BVA. Never could I have dreamed of such a journey.

I have enjoyed a host of "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences in my role as Executive Director that I cannot and will not ever forget. I doubt it possible that too many others could have the type of wonderful memories of their employment to cherish and recall during their years of retirement that I most assuredly will have.

Although words cannot adequately express my thoughts and feelings, I must also try to acknowledge the great honor and privilege I have had to associate with and learn from our talented, dedicated blinded veterans who have served in our Field Service and volunteer programs during these many years. They are indeed role models of the highest order.

I know I will miss the people with whom I have worked so closely over the years. Fortunately for me, I am not saying good-bye to BVA but only to my full-time work as Executive Director. I plan to continue attending national conventions and staying involved in other ways.

Just saying thank you seems so insufficient but it must suffice for now. Thank you, BVA, and thank you to all who have made the organization what it has become today.