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Alabama Member Tests Endurance Limits

Jeff Henson, now Sergeant-at-Arms of the Alabama Regional Group, was a trainee at the Southeastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham in late 2007 when he casually mentioned to social worker Sonya Graham that he was interested in attending the upcoming Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado.

Hoping to capitalize on Jeff’s enthusiasm, Graham didn’t waste a moment in assuring Jeff’s participation at the clinic.

“Sonya literally made dozens of calls to help me get information and funding,” he said. “I also received a lot of help and encouragement from my instructors and VIST Coordinator.”

Arriving at the event, any trepidation Jeff had previously felt soon left him. It was a definite turning point. The Winter Sports Clinic proved to be a springboard to a page-long list of athletic activities and competitive events in which Jeff has participated during a period of less than three years.”

“After my first event, I was hooked,” he said. “I felt in my heart that I could compete with anyone on any level.”

Such confidence and motivation were quite a reversal from where he was prior to his Winter Sports Clinic experience and stint at the BRC.

“I had been active in athletic activities all of my life,” he said, “but I stopped doing things after I lost my vision because I did not know there were adaptive sports programs out there.”

Participation in adaptive events gave him the confidence to compete once again at age 50 against sighted athletes in non-adaptive events.

Since the Winter Sports Clinic of 2008, Jeff’s activities include but are not limited to the 2008 Georgia Golden Olympics, a regular sports event that led him to the National Golden Olympics in San Francisco. He competed there in two events against sighted athletes. Jeff also rode a tandem bicycle from Miami to Key West, also in 2008, and participated in the San Diego Triathlon Marathon. He also attended the VA Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego and participated in State Games of the West that same year.

In 2009, Jeff was at the U.S. Paralympic Camp in Newport, Rhode Island. He also snowboarded that same year at the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports camp in Idaho and at the Stride Adaptive Sports event in Massachusetts. He competed in the Marine Corps Marathon and the Face of America Bike Ride in Washington, DC. Further, Jeff cycled from New York City to the Hamptons and participated in Operation Night Vision with the Lakeshore Foundation of Birmingham. He also successfully completed the Rochester River Challenge in 2009.

Jeff Henson, right, is assisted in showing off strength by Army veteran Shawn Howard during the latter’s first tandem ride.
Jeff Henson, right, is assisted in showing off strength by Army veteran Shawn Howard during the latter’s first tandem ride.

Despite a sore back that eventually resulted in back surgery this past November, Jeff was not bored in 2010. Among his activities throughout the year were the following: the Bataan Death March Marathon in White Sands, New Mexico; kayaking in the U.S. northwest; racing in the White Mountain Cycling Classic in New Hampshire; and camping on an ice glacier in Alaska for eight days learning winter survival skills as part of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Camp.

“My plans for 2011 depend on how well and how fast I heal,” he said. Jeff began training in mid-January with hopes for several tandem bike races, some skiing and snowboarding, and an eventual bike ride across the country later in the year.

Even with all of the physical feats and accomplishments, Jeff’s greatest satisfaction comes from encouraging others to challenge and enjoy themselves in similar activities.

“The one thing I am most proud of is being able to talk with students at Birmingham and get them involved in competition so they can see that they can perform on a high level even while blind,” he said. “As it was for me, most blinded veterans know very little about what’s available to them in adaptive sports and in so many other areas—things that can literally change a life and bring hope to a person with vision loss.”

Jeff believes membership in BVA could be still another key to helping veterans enlarge their vision and expand their horizons.

“I am trying to recruit more visually impaired veterans to join BVA,” he said. “Once they’re involved, I have an even greater opportunity and forum to encourage and share with them what I’ve learned and gained.”

Bulletin Audiocassettes Soon To Be Obsolete


Hosts of organizations across the country, including BVA, were surprised to learn in early autumn of last year that new audiocassette tapes would very soon be a thing of the past.

There is currently a limited availability of 90- and 60-minute tapes.

In response, assuming a supply of one or the other through June 2011, the Bulletin will be distributed in a new format to be announced soon. The format will most likely include a compact disc.

To read the current issue in its intended complete format, please use the print version or go to

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 determined.

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 reapply 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

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, 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 or

New Jersey Legislature Honors Frank Merendino


Francis A. “Frank” Merendino, New Jersey Regional Group, received the Donald Sykes Award from the John D. Young Memorial Lions Blind Center on October 21. The award was presented at the Atlantic County’s 22nd Annual Donald J. Sykes Award Ceremony at the May’s Landing, New Jersey Country Club.

The citation was based on Frank’s “fine example of a person with a disability who goes forward living an independent life, making a significant contribution to the community.”

Frank has been a contributing Lion at the Young Blind Center for more than ten years. He belongs to the Absecon, New Jersey, Lions Club and the Absecon Visionary Lions Club.

“No one ever asks Frank to help without receiving his help in abundance,” said Jack Sutcliffe, Administrator of the Blind Center. Sutcliffe wrote the award nomination on Frank’s behalf.

Because of the honor, Frank was also recognized soon after by both the New Jersey State Assembly and the U.S. Congress. Assemblymen John Amodeo and Vincent Polistina drafted a joint assembly commendation on his behalf, saluting him as “an individual of remarkable character and exceptional determination who enriches the lives of others while demonstrating the true spirit of the Sykes Award.”

Frank also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from his own Congressman, Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2).

Stalwart Connecticut Veterans Forge Hartford Parade

Brian Sullivan, Connecticut Regional Group, pictured at left with Austin Grimshaw prior to Hartford Veterans Day Parade November 7.
Brian Sullivan, Connecticut Regional Group, pictured at left with Austin Grimshaw prior to Hartford Veterans Day Parade November 7.

Five members of the Connecticut Regional Group and 10 trainees from the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West Haven braved a chilly Sunday afternoon recently to pay tribute to the nation’s veterans.

The entourage together walked or rode the 1.25-mile Hartford Veterans Day Parade route, which ran through the downtown area of the city.

Now an annual activity for the regional group, the parade walkers included 91-year-old Conrad Simard from Nashua, New Hampshire. Conrad took the time out of his schedule at the blind center to do the entire route on foot. Joining him were Director of District 1 and Connecticut Regional Group member David VanLoan; Austin Grimshaw, David’s 11-year-old grandson; Charles Grammer, president of the White River Junction Vermont Regional Group; Douglas Reid, treasurer of the Connecticut Regional Group; and Brian Sullivan, Connecticut Regional Group member.

The Hartford event was recognized this year by the VA Veterans Day National Committee as one of the nation’s official 2010 Veterans Day regional sites. It is the largest Veterans Day parade in New England and one of the largest in the country with some 4,000 participants.

The group was identified by a cloth banner carried by the lead walkers. The parade step-off occurred at 1 p.m. followed by a moment of silence exactly one hour later.

British OPS Alum Shares Story on Facebook

Craig Lundberg, one of BVA’s three Operation Peer Support participants from across the ocean, has posted a link to a news segment aired about him last year on British television. The link is located on BVA’s Facebook page.

British Operation Peer Support participant Craig Lundberg at BVA 63rd National Convention in Phoenix.
British Operation Peer Support participant Craig Lundberg at BVA 63rd National Convention in Phoenix.

The inspirational segment lasts approximately three and half minutes and provides a brief overview of his military service, injury, and recovery. To proceed directly to the video, visit

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 identical 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, 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 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.

Johnson Accepts Triathlon Challenge

BVA member Sean Johnson of Aberdeen, South Dakota, an Operation Peer Support participant at the past two national conventions, has been invited by the U.S. Olympic Organization to try out for the U.S. Paralympic Team for tandem cycling.

As part of Sean’s training for the tryouts, he has also agreed to train for a triathlon if chosen for the Paralympic team.

Sean’s recently increased interest in athletic challenge began at a U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) Sports camp in Colorado Springs last July, where he met trainer Jeffrey Tracey. The two rode a tandem bicycle together for a couple of days and decided to enter the Rocky Mountain States Games held a few weeks later. Unexpectedly, they won the Gold Medal for the Paralympic portion of the race, resulting in a new wave of attention for Sean, including a late November report on CNN.

Training for a triathlon is something Sean never would have dreamed about, even a few months ago, given his Traumatic Brain Injury and blindness,” the report stated. “Needless to say, his life has changed with the introduction of sports and the hope it provides to live a normal life again.”

California Ironman Raises Personal Bar

Richard Hunter, Northern California Regional Group, has become only the third visually impaired triathlete in all of North America to break five hours in a 70.3 Ironman event.His official time was four hours, 49 minutes, and 42 seconds.

Richard’s success has led him to the next step, which is registration for his first full Ironman. It will take place later this year in November at Ford Ironman, Florida. The event will consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, a feat perhaps no other blinded veteran has ever completed.

“I’ve now guaranteed myself the longest day of my life by registering for the full Ironman!” he joked.

Richard also said he was humbled and overwhelmed by the reception he received last year from older veterans with whom he shared his sports stories at the Augusta BRC. “They actually took pride in my first participation in the Augusta half Ironman event in 2009 and told me to continue to serve as an example and resource to fellow visually impaired endurance athletes.

“I know some of our blinded veterans have a goal to participate in a full Ironman event, but I am not sure that any have actually done it yet,” he said. “Sports have proven to be a great way to engage them in the rehabilitation process.”

Radio Release Highlights BVA Field Service Program

A 60-second radio spot distributed nationally in early February by North American Precis Syndicate, Inc. briefly describes the work of BVA’s Field Service Representatives and how they assist other blinded veterans.

The lead sentence of the spot states that hope exists for blinded veterans and those who care about them because of an organization committed to helping the veterans obtain the services they deserve. The release then refers to the efforts of Region I Field Rep Ed Eckroth in helping BVA member Tom Bove of Farmingdale, New York (New York Regional Group), recover funds that had been mistakenly withheld from his VA pension. Ed uncovered the error and took the necessary steps to get the payments restored.

The release went on to explain that Ed is one of seven BVA representatives who live and work in separate regions throughout the United States. As blinded veterans themselves, the reps assist with claims and also serve as role models, helping their fellow veterans along the road to independence.

“The Field Service Program is one of several initiatives and services bringing hope to veterans with vision loss, regardless of whether they are members of the organization,” the release concludes.

Hawaii Vet and Spouse Offer Burst of Enthusiasm

Clayton Punihaole, an Air Force blinded veteran of the Vietnam era from the Big Island of Hawaii, is a farmer of both vegetables and coffee. He recently discovered and joined BVA as a life member.

Clayton was featured last November 8 on the front page of West Hawaii Today, the local area’s daily newspaper in and around Kona, for his extraordinary proficiency, although blind, in navigating coffee trees and picking vegetables. The article described his system of running a rope parallel to his house on the southernmost part of his field. To this rope he attaches ropes running laterally in rows, two at a time.

Clayton and his wife, Pamela, contacted BVA National Headquarters in late December to report their participation in a White Cane Safety Awareness Walk in Kona, inquiring at the same time about educational and awareness materials for distribution at their next walk. They also expressed both optimism and hope about their role in a possible reinvigoration of the Hawaii Regional Group in the near future.