Around BVA


White Cane Activities Extend BVA Outreach 


Blinded veterans from regional groups across the country recently joined forces with BVA Auxiliary regional groups, VA support groups, and sister organizations of and for the blind in promoting public awareness of the issues facing the blind and visually impaired.

White Cane Safety Day, always October 15 officially but commemorated throughout the month of October, includes demonstrations and discussions about the significance of the white cane itself, how to assist the legally blind in public places, and how motorists can best demonstrate courtesy to those with vision loss who might be navigating sidewalks or trying to cross the street within crosswalks.
By official proclamation of the President of the United States, White Cane Safety Day has also become known as Blind Americans Equality Day under President Obama.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Safety Day proclamation in 1964, asking all citizens to recognize the white cane as a symbol of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his or her own.

The original proclamation further declared: “The white cane’s use has promoted courtesy and special consideration for the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more aware of the meaning of the white cane, and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it, the Congress, by joint resolution approved October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.”

BVA National Headquarters sent informational and promotional materials to several of its own regional groups, chapters, and individual members in preparation for specific events on October 15 and beyond, most of which occur at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics with the support of VIST Coordinators and other Blind Rehabilitation Service staff. In other cases, materials are sent directly to VA staff members or other organizations who offer to promote BVA as part of their own White Cane Safety Day activities.

On October 15, BVA Auxiliary member Betty Charlesworth set up a display table at the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while VIST Coordinator Olukanyin “Koin” BodeHarrison was at the Arrowhead Mall in Muskogee with the same objective in mind, that of educating the public about the prevalence and use of the white cane.

“Often these opportunities help us locate veterans who have lost some of their sight and who may actually be legally blind,” said Betty. “The star of our show that day was William Bates, a member of BVA who recently joined the organization and who impressed a number of our visitors and the clinic director with his technological devices that help blinded veterans maintain their independence.”

Also on October 15, Wade Davis, Bryan Fuller, and Charles Smith joined 150 other walkers in a White Cane Safety Day activity co-sponsored by the Washington, DC VA Medical Center and the District of Columbia Office of Disability Rights. The 30-minute walk occurred to and from the Office of Disability Rights to the U.S. Capitol. It was followed by presentations that included brief remarks from Wade about the history of the white cane and the role that blinded veterans have played in its evolution and development.

Assisted by both white canes and guide dogs Levi and Sarah, Charles Smith, Wade Davis, and Bryan Fuller, left to right, navigate route from Judiciary Square area to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Assisted by both white canes and guide dogs Levi and Sarah, Charles Smith, Wade Davis, and Bryan Fuller, left to right, navigate route from Judiciary Square area to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.

On October 16, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, VIST Coordinator Adele Geringer, Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Amber Vaillancourt, and the Rhode Island/Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group teamed up with a display table at the North Dartmouth Mall in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Participants from the regional group were Randy Durrigan, president, and Anthony Ricci, vice president.

 Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group Vice President Anthony Ricci provides white cane instruction to youngsters who stopped by their exhibit table at North Dartmouth Mall.Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group Vice President Anthony Ricci provides white cane instruction to youngsters who stopped by their exhibit table at North Dartmouth Mall.
Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group Vice President Anthony Ricci provides white cane instruction to youngsters who stopped by their exhibit table at North Dartmouth Mall.

On October 21, the regional group and VA staff once again engaged the public about white cane use, this time in the basement lobby of the Providence VA Medical Center.
 

National Headquarters Seeks Full-Time NFSO


BVA has an immediate opening for a full-time, National Field Service Officer (NFSO) located at the new Field Service Resource Center in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Acting under the general supervision of the National Director of the Field Service Program, the NFSO is responsible to:

• Provide assistance to blind and visually impaired veterans.
• Inform veterans of available federal, state, and local benefits and programs.
• Act as a role model for the benefits of blind rehab training for blinded veterans while also assisting family members in realizing ways to cope with loss of sight and acknowledge the value of rehabilitation.  
• Work a rotating schedule of day and evening shifts with occasional weekends in the NFSO Resource Center
• Complete the Basic Training Course of the National Veterans Legal Service Program (NVLSP) within one month of being hired. 


Qualifications for the position are:

• The candidate must be a legally blind veteran.
• A Bachelor’s Degree in a related field such as counseling, blind rehabilitation, or social work is preferred. Education may be substituted by additional training or work in a closely related field that includes veterans’ benefits.
• Attendance and successful completion of a training program at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center.  
• Knowledge of the VA health care structure, benefits from VA for blinded veterans, and federal, state, and local resources that serve blinded veterans and the visually impaired population. 
• A working knowledge of MS Word, MS Excel, and MS Outlook.
• Excellent written and oral communication skills; proficiency in use of special aids or equipment for the blind or visually impaired. This includes correspondence and report writing capabilities. The NFSO must have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills and proficiency in mobility. 
• Ability to articulate the needs of blinded veterans to a variety of stakeholders; work independently; advise blinded veterans and their families on the benefits and rights to which they are entitled through VA; work effectively with the public and all other BVA staff; represent BVA in public meetings; compile reports for the FSP National Director; and utilize all available resources in obtaining benefits for blinded veterans.
• Fluency in Spanish a plus.


The position is full-time (37.5 hours per week) with salary at $17.94 per hour. BVA and federal government background checks will be performed. To be considered, please send resume and cover letter by January 15, 2016 via email to BVA Field Service Resource Center; Attn: Edward Eckroth, FSP National Director. Applicants should transmit their documents to fieldservice@bva.org.

New Interest Group Centers on Guide Dogs

The first meeting of a newly-created interest group, the Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers (CVGSDH), met at the 70th BVA convention in Louisville, Kentucky, on August 20.  The group’s purpose is to provide advocacy, support, information, and education on issues relevant to the handling of guide and service dogs by blinded veterans.

At the meeting, a compilation of documents was distributed to attendees.  The information included the new policy covering access on VA property for service animals and new revisions contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Guest presenters included Joyce Edmondson from VA Prosthetics, Wells Jones and Anne Mercer from Guide Dog Foundation/America’s Vet Dogs, and a demonstration by BackTPack.  Topics covered the VA health insurance program for certified guide and service dogs and the progress being made in research into the training of a certified PTSD dog.

Contact Paul Mimms at paul8655@gmail.com to be added to the mail list for the group.  Access the documents distributed at the meeting at blindnotalone.com/council-on-veteran-guide-and-service-animal-handlers.

Accessibility Highlights Newly Launched Website 


BVA has launched a newly redesigned, fully accessible, mobile-responsive website. Users began navigating the site at its Homepage, www.bva.org, on October 30.

“The new site will offer previously unavailable resources, tools, and other sources of information,” said Al Avina. “It will also allow our constituents to efficiently update records, register for events, and gain access to the assistance they may be seeking for themselves or other veterans who have experienced vision loss.”

BVA’s previous site was designed before the Internet was easily accessible via tablet and Smartphone, and was not optimized for mobile users. The new site is mobile-reactive, automatically displaying a user-friendly version of the site on mobile devices.

The site is also designed for compatibility with most screen-reader applications to ensure that it is as accessible as possible for blind and low-vision users. The new design features BVA’s recently updated logo, a sleeker layout, and a more convenient navigation process.

All of the content from the old website, which spans more than five years, has been carefully preserved by BVA staff to offer a complete historical perspective on BVA’s past and present service to blinded veterans. 

Building on that foundation, the new site will feature in the coming months several useful functions for both Association members and the public, including a login section for members only where they will be able to personally update their information. An additional section will feature adaptive technology with reviews and guides written by BVA members and staff. 

“The site will continue to be a work in progress,” Al said. “In the meantime, BVA is proud of the improvements that will better allow the organization to communicate effectively on all platforms with our members and the public.”

Scholarships Again Available For 2016-17 Academic Year


BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2016-17 school year, six under the Kathern F. Gruber classification and one through the Thomas H. Miller program.

The Gruber scholarships are valued at $2,000 each and the Miller stipend is for $1,000.

The Miller program, now in its fourth year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards but has an added emphasis on music and the fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates. 

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of both blinded veterans and active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. The veteran need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association.

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

BVA began its first scholarship program 31 years ago. The awards are intended to defray a student's educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

The scholarships will be awarded on a "most-highly-qualified" basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant's career goals and aspirations as well as past awards and achievements.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the BVA National Board of Directors has determined that Gruber and Miller Scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Applications for the scholarships may be accessed and downloaded at bva.org/scholarships , by emailing the request to cdumond@bva.org, or by sending a written request via postal mail to BVA National Headquarters, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 15, 2016. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee's review, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.

Full-Court Press in PR To Find New Members 


Officers and members of the Puerto Rico Regional Group have intensified their membership recruiting efforts with a new emphasis on utilizing BVA’s new marketing and membership brochure.

In addition to including business cards containing contact information of the president and secretary of the group with each brochure distributed, the group is now manning a BVA/VIST/BRC orientation table every third Wednesday of the month in the Office of Public Affairs area at the San Juan VA Medical Center.

The purpose of the table is to orient veterans and their families about the benefits of becoming a BVA member.

“We encourage those we meet to accept their condition of blindness and to adapt to some of the very challenging consequences, such as loss of driving privileges,” said Rubén Sanchez, current secretary of the group. “We then invite them to our office which is located on the premises of the BRC.”

Still another recruiting tool of the regional group is the VA-BRC community meetings conducted monthly and directed to new BRC patients. The meetings are at least an hour in length and occur each fourth Monday in the afternoon. Presenters orient patients regarding the benefits of BVA membership and then ask for feedback about the trainees’ experiences at the BRC to that point, both positive and negative. They then take those comments back to the BRC Director in the form of congratulations or requests to fix something.

“This is our best way to recruit new members,” said Rubén. “I would say that during the past year approximately 75 percent of our new members have come from the VA BRC community meetings.”

The group hopes that its increased use of the new brochures supplied by BVA National Headquarters will translate into a corresponding increase in new members.

“It’s a nice brochure, very handy and explicit,” said Rubén. “We encourage all of our regional groups throughout the country to take advantage of this new resource that presents BVA and its programs a bit differently, perhaps more attractively, than they have been presented in the past.”

Membership Applications Need Supporting Documents


Blinded veterans submitting an application to join BVA as a Life Member, an Annual Member, or an Honorary World War II Member must also submit a copy of their DD214, a physician’s letter of legal blindness, or a statement from VA if they are already service-connected for blindness.

All veterans of the U.S. Military who are legally blind are eligible to join BVA.

The requirement to submit the supporting documents was proposed and adopted by the BVA Board of Directors in February 2014 at its annual mid-winter meeting. The policy became effective on July 1, 2014.

BVA National Headquarters began enforcing the policy with the revision of its application form this past summer.

“We recognize that veterans may not have a current letter of blindness or a copy of their DD-214,” said Ed Eckroth, Director of the Field Service Program. “To simplify the process, BVA will accept, from the veteran’s local Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Coordinator, confirmation of service from other sources.”

The following information may be sent via postal mail or email to Cecilia Montenegro, 125 N. West Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 (cmontenegro@bva.org), on official VA letterhead or through VIST/VHA exam notes:

• Branch of Service 
• Beginning and Ending Dates of Services
• Name of VIST Coordinator
• Confirmation of meeting standards of blindness as follows:
• ICD-9-CM Diagnosis Code 369.4 legal blindness, or
• Visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye with corrective lenses, or
• Visual field restriction to 20 degrees diameter or less in the better eye.


Prospective members should note that a VHA 10-5345 REQUEST FOR AND AUTHORIZATION TO RELEASE MEDICAL RECORDS OR HEALTH INFORMATION may be required by the VIST Coordinator or privacy office. Although BVA is willing to accept correspondence from the VIST Coordinator, the latter may be restricted by local VA policy and is not obligated to provide this information.

“We look forward to working with our new members and welcome them into the BVA community,” Ed said. “Together, as blinded veterans empowering other blinded veterans, we can make a difference in our communities and across the nation.”