by Sam Huhn
I am composing this message exactly one month following our BVA 67th National Convention in warm, beautiful Galveston, Texas. This Autumn issue of the Bulletin covers an unusually long span of time that includes some of our most significant holidays and activities. Revisiting our convention, it was not just warm in Galveston but hot and sticky! In the end, the heat didn't much matter and became tolerable when we focused on the business of the four days and all we needed to accomplish in a short time.
If you missed this convention and are now catching up with the proceedings through our BVA Bulletin several months later, I can attest to the fact that we had a great time. It was fun meeting up with the old-timers and greeting some of our new members that were in attendance for the first or second time.
Perhaps most of our Bulletin readers know by now that members of the Greater Houston Regional Group hosted the convention. They did a tremendous job. Roy Young, a member of that group and also our current National Treasurer, chaired the event. Roy pulled off some amazing things in both preparing for and carrying out this seemingly impossible task. Although there are many feats that I could expound on if Roy would allow me to do so, perhaps of most interest was the highly touted blood drive and public benefit auction on the evening of August 21.
Our speakers at general sessions and events were top notch in quality and they were often inspiring. We were fortunate again this year to have Secretary Shinseki deliver our keynote address at the Opening Business Session. I appreciated the warmth of Galveston Mayor Lewis Rosen, who took time out of his schedule to welcome us and present me with a key to the city in that same session.
Thanks to the logistical arrangements made by Roy and the regional group, we were also treated to some well-prepared remarks by Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston) Director Adam C. Walmus and the facility's Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation Director Karen Petty.
Our Wednesday BVA Forum on technology and research, held in previous years on Friday, was especially outstanding this year. David A. Ross, a Rehabilitation Research Engineer, provided new insights into the strategies and technologies that are improving orientation, situational awareness, and independent safe travel for blinded veterans. VISN 17 Prosthetics Representative Rhonda Shipman elaborated on new and old technologies available to blinded veterans. We also thank Paul Kaminsky of the Florida Regional Group and Dennis O'Connell of the New York Regional Group for their respective presentations on how to best use Apple products and BVA leadership resources online.
Our Father Carroll Luncheon immediately following the forum did not disappoint as American Foundation for the Blind President and Chief Executive Officer Carl Augusto recounted his youth as a blind person and how he had applied those experiences to his personal and professional challenges as an adult.
Speaking of challenges, or in this case writing about them, I hope that many of our regional groups met the challenge to get out and participate in White Cane Safety Day activities on or around October 15. The entire month of October was "Blind Awareness Month," giving us many opportunities to inform the public of this important issue and demonstrate that blindness can be overcome through such activities as independent travel and participation in sports and recreation. Many of our VIST Coordinators and dedicated rehabilitation personnel at VA Medical Centers have assisted or taken charge of these white cane awareness activities. We thank them for their extra mile sacrifices.
I also hope that Veterans Day, wherever you were able to spend it, was a day of reflection and gratitude toward our own service and sacrifices as well as those of our fellow veterans.
I ask our BVA members to please make an effort to become more active in your regional groups. Recruit one new member per month and ask them to come to the BVA meetings or support group gatherings. If each group could increase its membership by 12 per year, this would amount to a total of 600 per year from one source alone.
Why would such an increase be so important to us? It is important because there is strength in numbers. When we approach VA or the U.S. Congress in order to advocate for ourselves and our benefits, the louder voice often gets the attention.
On behalf of the BVA Board of Directors, I hope that end-of-the-year festivities bring you nothing short of the joy and happiness that each of you deserves. You deserve this as members and staunch contributors to the success of this wonderful organization!