by Mark Cornell
As I reflect on my first year in office as your National President, I acknowledge that it has been a challenging one thus far during my short tenure. One of the highlights, indeed the opportunity of my life, was most certainly my presentation of the BVA annual testimony before Congress back on March 6.
Although I believed I would be nervous, the reverse actually happened! My confidence was elevated just prior to my testimony by the meetings we conducted with Members of Congress on both the House and the Senate sides of Capitol Hill. With Glenn Minney and Tom Zampieri guiding us, I obtained a better feel for what I would need to do during my testimony to generate positive results for our members.
I had been given the impression that I would be first to testify but I ended up presenting last. My desire to get the BVA message across eliminated any nervousness as I focused on presenting important issues for BVA members. As I always do, I told them the truth before, during, and after my testimony. The content focused on beneficiary travel, BRC funding and staffing, increased VA participation in the management of the Vision Centers of Excellence, additional funding for Traumatic Eye Injury Research, and Section 508 compliance as explained by Glenn in this issue’s Legislative Update.
I thank the BVA Legislative Committee and National Headquarters for helping me prepare for this event. The objective, of course, is for the organization to meet its responsibilities to the membership as the official voice for blinded veterans before the U.S. Congress. This is made possible by our Congressional Charter that dates back to 1958.
Expanding BVA’s Outreach
I have noticed that there are varying ideas as to what the BVA mission is and what is assumed to be our congressionally chartered organizational mandate. Our mission is for blinded veterans to assist blind and visually impaired veterans. Our charter does not restrict or limit our organization to serving only blinded veterans. In fact, we are to be an organization for those who have “sustained a substantial impairment of sight or vision, as such is defined from time to time by the bylaws of the corporation, and who shall be eligible for general membership in the corporation.” We need to do what is asked and that is to help those who are blind or visually impaired. We need to expand our outreach and envelop those with visual impairments but who are not blind.
Will expanding the membership base bring in a substantial number of new members? I do not know, but it is the right thing to do. It will allow those who fall into the category of “substantial impairment of sight and vision loss” to be welcomed into our organization and to not be criticized for not being “blind enough.”
I ask that you think about how you would feel if you were experiencing functional vision loss and were told you weren’t blind enough. If a veteran has visual impairment sufficiently severe to need services of the VA VIST program, that veteran should be in our supportive BVA organizational family.
“My Name is Gossip”
Many organizations nowadays have internal issues and problems to solve. There are many causes for such challenges. I located a brief description of a societal and organizational malady that addresses just one of these causes. It is particularly interesting and something worthy of following. It was posted on the President’s Forum by Paul Kaminsky of the Florida Regional Group. Because of its profoundness, I think we should all thank Paul for this posting. Unfortunately, we cannot thank the author because he/she is unknown.
“My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted, the more I am believed. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I am nobody's friend. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. I topple governments and wreck marriages. I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion. I make innocent people cry in their pillows. Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip. I create headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it harmless? Is it necessary? If it isn't, don't repeat it.”
Looking Ahead to Important Initiatives and Events
I hope that BVA members and their families took the time on Memorial Day to contemplate the ultimate sacrifice of so many of our service members and that it was a meaningful day for all.
Beginning in 1968 when the holiday became the final Monday in May, we actually have three days to pay tribute to these brave men and women and to participate in the many remembrances that have become part of the weekend. We must never forget them, nor can we ever overlook the heroism with which they paid the ultimate price. We have what we have, we do what we do, and we are what we are because of them.
If you attended an event on Memorial Day, I hope you proudly wore your BVA service cap! If not, there will be another wonderful opportunity to do so at the major events of our upcoming 69th National Convention in Reno, Nevada. If you haven’t done so already, please begin making plans this very moment to join us on or before August 18.
We are looking forward to a great convention this year as well as a new beginning for the organization. We will discuss in greater detail some of our most recent progress and development. BVA is currently in the process of relocating the BVA National Headquarters from 477 H Street NW to an alternate location. We have a contract offer on the building we own. The staff and executive committee are working closely on decisions regarding finding a new location in the area. Further information and updates will be provided in the summer Bulletin and at the national convention in August.
Other things happening with BVA is the establishment of an updated Educational Committee to be chaired by Director of District 2 Freddie Edwards. There is now a working Native American Committee chaired by Director of District 4 Robert Mower. We are also still in the process of digitizing our records. Further, we are adding to the field service regions and offices as well as upgrading the technology used by our National Field Service Officers. We are continuing to strengthen our partnerships with other organizations, particularly as we continue to advocate for an increase in research activity and funding dedicated to the study of combat eye trauma vision loss.
With all of us working together as a team, we will combine to better serve our blind and visually impaired veterans nationwide in the years and decades to come.