by Sam Huhn
As many of our Association members are already aware, the Blinded Veterans Association's humble beginnings occurred at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital on March 28, 1945. This -means that this current issue of the BVA Bulletin will be distributed and delivered within days of the 67th birthday of our beloved organization.
For me, 2012 should be the year we remember and celebrate BVA's role as an advocate for blinded veterans. Those who look back at our history will see that the existing 13 residential BRCs throughout the country, three of which have recently been inaugurated, came about in large part because of BVA's presence on Capitol Hill and its persistence in working with both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
BVA National President Sam Huhn, left, with Ohio State University military history enthusiast Kyle Nappi at Veterans Day 2011 reception. Kyle first made contact with BVA five years ago as a high school junior in Ostrander, Ohio, while seeking autographs and memorabilia from veterans for a much publicized personal collection. Serving as an intern at the Pentagon during his fall semester, Kyle met up in person with BVA staff and national officers at Nation's Capitol Veterans Day events.
The same is also the case with the approximately 125 Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Coordinators and 75 Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS) based in VA Medical Centers and clinics throughout the country. Without BVA's efforts, these positions would not exist and, without them, blinded veterans would not have access to the services and opportunities they enjoy today.
We have also seen recent success on a number of other fronts within the legislative arena. Service-connected blinded veterans, for example, are no longer billed for co-payments for inpatient or outpatient medical care. In addition, veterans who are service-connected for loss of vision in one eye due to injury or illness incurred on active duty are no longer automatically denied disability compensation if they become legally blind in the remaining nonservice-connected eye. Also, in late 2010, we witnessed passage of legislation that allows blinded nonservice-connected veterans who receive small state annuities to keep the annuities without losing anything from their VA pensions.
Mention of our successes at the national level is not meant to discount the influence our members and regional groups have had on state and local legislation and policy in their own backyards. State annuities, real estate exemptions, and improvements in public accommodations and transportation are all numbered among the accomplishments. A mere three blinded veterans and three VA employees in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, worked tirelessly in the late 1990s for a VA program that eventually became known as Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR). The idea worked so well in Pennsylvania that we now see it in 13 different locations throughout the United States.
So, our efforts do make a difference and, although we recognize and celebrate them, we continue searching for additional ways to make life better for our veterans as they adjust to losing their sight. We will work particularly hard on two areas of focus right now—first, to make eligibility requirements for the Special Adaptive Housing grants for blinded veterans less stringent; and second, to effect change in VA's policy for paying travel expenses for catastrophically disabled blinded veterans to attend a VA BRC.
The challenge for us at BVA is to serve the multiple and diverse needs of an estimated 158,000 legally blinded veterans and the additional 700,000 who have vision impairments. Because no single veteran is exactly like another, we must strive to learn how to best serve each one individually and then collectively.
May we always know for what purpose and for whom we are focusing our advocacy efforts. May we renew our concern for our veterans. Just as the current generation of our membership has benefited from BVA's past and present successes, may our advocacy and service to one another lay the groundwork for more of the same for many years to come.