by Sam Huhn
It was a great honor to represent BVA and to serve as the organization's voice at our recent Congressional testimony. After all was said and done, I enjoyed the experience.
As many of our readers know, the primary purpose of this event is to outline our legislative priorities for the upcoming year. What many might not realize is that in recent years we have shared the witness table with up to ten other organizations, which was the case this year. The number of participants dictates the amount of time we have to speak, which this year was just five minutes!
As is obvious, it is nearly impossible to discuss in any detail the major national legislative issues that are of greatest concern to us, both as an organization as well as individual blinded veterans. I could do little more than enumerate those issues one by one and describe how we felt about each. As Tom Zampieri has mentioned in his Update, I attempted to be emphatic with respect to our frustration at the lack of funding for vision research when there are so many other government programs that are essentially rubber-stamped by Congress.
Earlier that same week, prior to our testimony, another hearing of Veterans Service Organizations took place. This meant that for five days the contingency of veterans in Washington was huge. The offices were swamped all week! Therefore, it was not easy to secure appointments on Capitol Hill and at VA Central Office, especially with Congressional members themselves and high-profile VA officials. We thank Tom for his persistence in getting things set up and making possible the visits we did have.
Current members of the BVA Board of Directors, one past member, and the Executive Director enjoy a moment outside BVA National Headquarters upon returning from Capitol Hill hearing and prior to a rigorous afternoon of meetings. Front row, left to right, Neil Appleby, Mark Cornell, Dale Stamper, Tom Miller, Sam Huhn, Dr. George Stocking, Joe Burns, and Joe Parker with his Yellow Labrador Retriever Josie. Back row, David VanLoan, Robert Mower, Ronnie Anderson, and Freddie Edwards.
Our mid-winter Board meetings also coincided with the testimony. Thanks to the preparations made in advance and the attendance and attentiveness of our National Officers and District Directors, the meetings went off without a hitch and proved productive. Yes, we still call these gatherings our mid-winter Board meetings out of tradition although they occurred March 21-23 this year. It just so happened, ironically, that the renowned Washington cherry blossoms were in full bloom during our "mid-winter" week there.
I also wish to thank our Board of Directors and, in particular, the designated search committee, for all of their efforts in selecting a new Executive Director. Please welcome Al Avina, an Army blinded veteran who served during 1989-96, to BVA National Headquarters. Al has a background in marketing and human resources. He will provide much of the expertise and direction that are so urgently needed in these dynamic and changing times.
We must be innovative in our service to our younger veterans who have lost their sight while never forgetting or overlooking the needs of our more seasoned group of members. Surely we walk a delicate tightrope in trying to do so. Al will provide us with the much-needed balance and stability to make it happen.
Most important of all, I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our BVA 67th National Convention on Galveston Island. This issue of the Bulletin
provides an abundance of detail regarding the preparations currently being made by the Greater Houston Regional Group and our National Headquarters staff.
One of the highlights for me will be the traditional and critically important Leadership Training Forum that immediately precedes our Awards Banquet. Dennis O’Connell, outgoing president of the New York Regional Group, has kindly agreed to be the moderator of the session.
After you read all of the details, hopefully it will be obvious just how much fun and productive this convention will be. One thing is certain: It won’t be the same if you, individually, are not there. Please make plans to join us August 20-23!