Galveston Warmth Engulfs BVA's 67th
"Until we meet again in Spokane in just one year, I bid you farewell, safe travels, and Godspeed," said BVA National President Sam Huhn as he struck the wooden gavel that officially adjourned the BVA 67th National Convention and created still a new section in the annals of the Association's rich history.
Events of the convention, which were held at both the Galveston Island Convention Center and the Hilton Galveston Island Resort where attendees lodged, came to a close with the annual Awards Banquet on August 23, ending a week of warm indoor southern hospitality at the hotel and convention center that matched the extreme outdoor warmth and humidity.
Tom Miller, left, meets up with Korean War veteran Bill Dixon prior to Father Carroll Luncheon.
The banquet featured the recognition of Thomas Hicks of the Northern Arizona Regional Group as winner of the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement. It also highlighted Randall Durrigan of the Southeast Massachusetts-Rhode Island Regional Group as recipient of the Irving Diener Award for exemplary service to his group, and Enrique Sanchez of the New York Regional Group as the winner of the David L. Schnair Award for his dedicated work as a BVA volunteer.
The Missouri Regional Group, represented by Paul Mimms, was awarded the Gold Gavel for the largest numerical membership increase (32) while Dan Curtis received the Silver Gavel on behalf of the Southern Arizona Regional Group for the largest percentage increase in membership (4 percent).
Hosted by the Greater Houston Regional Group and chaired by BVA National Treasurer Roy Young, this year's gathering included a unique three-hour live auction on Tuesday evening (August 21) to offset convention expenses, a BVA-sponsored blood drive outside the Convention Center earlier that day, and a host of small-group sessions relating to current technology, self-defense, and new services to the blind and visually impaired.
Deborah Bloom and Mike Rydel of The Hadley School for the Blind's Curricular Affairs Department in convention Exhibit Hall. BVA established a formal partnership with The Hadley School earlier this year.
Convention attendees and volunteers numbered approximately 350, including 114 blinded veterans, 80 family members and friends, 60 individual exhibitors in 32 booths, and a host of professional presenters and volunteers from local Veterans Service Organizations, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews, and other community organizations.
Volunteer Coordinator Margarine Beaman located the helpers by contacting local Gathering of Eagles groups, Rice University's National Public Radio affiliate, the Harris County Office of Veterans Affairs, and local American Legion posts. Publicity also went out through NASA and the Bay Area Citizen newspaper.
Meetings of the BVA Executive Committee and Board of Directors convened Saturday through Monday. Directors of Districts 1 and 2 David VanLoan and Freddie Edwards, respectively, continued on the Board by virtue of their uncontested July re-elections. Special elections in Districts 4 and 6 were also decided in favor of the incumbents, respectively Robert Mower and Ronnie Anderson.
Tuesday's Opening Business Session began with presentation of the colors by the Armed Guard of the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, followed by the presentations Sam referred to in his President's Page.
As Sam also mentioned, the Wednesday Father Carroll Luncheon audience was favored by an address by AFB President and Chief Executive Officer Carl Augusto. Mr. Augusto presented former BVA Executive Director Thomas H. Miller with the prestigious Irvin P. Schloss AFB Advocacy Award. Although the award came about in 2003, Tom is only its third recipient.
BVA also presented its annual Certificates of Appreciation at the Luncheon to the following VA BRS employees: John Collins, VIST Coordinator at the Bronx, New York, VA Medical Center; Suzanne Eldred, Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Deborah Voydetich, VIST Coordinator at the Minneapolis, Minnesota, VA Medical Center.
Now in its seventh year as a BVA national convention component, the organization's Operation Peer Support initiative brought seven recently blinded service members, including two from the United Kingdom, who lost their sight in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). An additional 11 participants who had attended a previous convention paid their own way to attend this year. This number included three additional British blinded veterans.
Operation Peer Support brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War era. The program's aim is to provide newly blinded veterans, or servicemembers if they are still on active duty, with examples of and opportunities to interact with men and women who have led prosperous and happy lives despite having to adjust to sight loss at some point.
Convention activities for Operation Peer Support participants included seminars, discussions, and demonstrations in the areas of educational and VA benefits, technology, self-defense, and career planning. The group also participated in an afternoon of paddling on kayaks on nearby Galveston Bay courtesy of Team River Runner, and in a VIP tour and visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Before and after scheduled activities, many conventioneers already accustomed to a bit of heat and humidity found an appropriate escape on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico or the wide walkway running parallel to Seawall Boulevard on which both the Convention Center and the Hilton Resort were situated across the busy thoroughfare. Abundant nearby dining options were also available to them.
Also running concurrently with BVA's meetings was the second annual DoD-VA Eye Care Conference, planned and organized by the Vision Center of Excellence. Topics again this year focused on improving the tracking and treatment of combat injuries affecting vision.
In the convention's Closing Business Session, BVA delegates and other registered blinded veteran attendees voted to pass two bylaw amendments and 13 resolutions. A third proposed bylaw resolution was withdrawn by BVA National Vice President Mark Cornell prior to a vote. All national officers on the BVA Board of Directors--President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer--were re-elected to complete the second year of their two-year terms of office.
BVA's 68th National Convention is right around the corner! Official dates for the gathering are now set at August 20-23, 2013.
As in 2012, the number of days will be four but, unlike 2012, the 2013 convention will run from Tuesday through Friday.
The venue for BVA's 68th is the Red Lion Hotel at the Park in downtown Spokane, Washington. The hotel is located on the banks of the Spokane River, steps from Riverfront Park, the Centennial Trail, and Spokane Falls. Also adjacent are downtown attractions such as the INB Performing Arts Center, the Davenport Arts District, Bing Crosby Theater, and Gonzaga University.
The Red Lion at the Park is just minutes from Spokane International Airport and a scenic 20-mile drive from Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard area.
To keep abreast of details for the 68th National Convention, be on the lookout for the next two issues of the Bulletin or visit www.bva.org/convention
Quotable from the BVA 67th National Convention
We understand that transportation is an access-to-care issue for many veterans. Fortunately, many blinded veterans meet the eligibility criteria for transportation benefits of the beneficiary travel program and receive VA assistance with transport to and from their VA health care. With assistance from Veterans Service Organizations, including BVA, VA is currently seeking legislative and regulatory relief to expand veteran eligibility for the beneficiary travel program. We are committed to ensuring that lack of transportation is not a barrier to VA health care.
-Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Keynote Address
I never knew Father Thomas J. Carroll, your BVA National Chaplain for 25 years, but I heard a great deal about him from those who did know him. He was in imposing figure with an engaging smile, a booming voice, and also a very hearty laugh. He was born in 1909 and died only 62 years later, but he had a profound influence on our services to blind people in this country.
-Carl R. Augusto, AFB President and CEO, Father Carroll Luncheon Address