New BVA Logo

Left to right, Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth find temporary relief in some shade prior to their formal presentation of BVA’s wreath at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.
Left to right, Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth find temporary relief in some shade prior to their formal presentation of BVA’s wreath at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.

With huge crowd of onlookers and accompanied by a Veterans of Foreign Wars escort at far left, BVA contingency of Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth raise right arms to salute Honor Guard at Tomb of the Unknowns as they offer BVA wreath.

With huge crowd of onlookers and accompanied by a Veterans of Foreign Wars escort at far left, BVA contingency of Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth raise right arms to salute Honor Guard at Tomb of the Unknowns as they offer BVA wreath.

Designed much like a medieval estate complete with brownstone exterior, red slate roof, and hand-hewn beams, Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital was the birthplace of the Blinded Veterans Association on March 28, 1945.
Designed much like a medieval estate complete with brownstone exterior, red slate roof, and hand-hewn beams, Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital was the birthplace of the Blinded Veterans Association on March 28, 1945.

Herbert Humphrey, right, with Glenn Minney at NIB Public Policy Forum luncheon.
Herbert Humphrey, right, with Glenn Minney at NIB Public Policy Forum luncheon.

Project Gemini participants together at Newhaven Fort, built in the mid-19th century to defend the Newhaven harbor on the southern coast of England. Newhaven Fort was the largest defense structure constructed in the County of Sussex and is now open as a museum.
Project Gemini participants together at Newhaven Fort, built in the mid-19th century to defend the Newhaven harbor on the southern coast of England. Newhaven Fort was the largest defense structure constructed in the County of Sussex and is now open as a museum.

Left to right at ARVO International Conference, panelists and BVA members Matt Slaydon, Shianti Lee, Tim Hornik, Sean Johnson, Steve Baskis, and Glenn Minney. Photo courtesy of David Epstein, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research.
Left to right at ARVO International Conference, panelists and BVA members Matt Slaydon, Shianti Lee, Tim Hornik, Sean Johnson, Steve Baskis, and Glenn Minney. Photo courtesy of David Epstein, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research.

Eileen Vasquez made the most of a week of challenge and camaraderie at this year’s Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado.
Eileen Vasquez made the most of a week of challenge and camaraderie at this year’s Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado.

Randy Durrigan, regional group president from the “other side of Massachusetts” (RI-S.E. Massachusetts Regional Group), pays tribute to Cliff Fisher and his dedicated service to blinded veterans on Cape Cod.
Randy Durrigan, regional group president from the “other side of Massachusetts” (RI-S.E. Massachusetts Regional Group), pays tribute to Cliff Fisher and his dedicated service to blinded veterans on Cape Cod.

Diabetic nurses John Pimental, left, and Annette Lapre addressed May 16 spring luncheon of the Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group.
Diabetic nurses John Pimental, left, and Annette Lapre addressed May 16 spring luncheon of the Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group.  

Around BVA...

 

BVA Unveils New Logo

 

As part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the marketing and communication of its services to America’s blinded veterans, their families, and the general public, BVA has designed and unveiled a new, modernized organizational logo.

The design is an outline of portions of two stars, one red and another blue on the left, followed to the right by the name of the organization on three distinct lines in uppercase characters. An identifying phrase is positioned between two horizontal lines at the bottom of the image.

“The new image is a tightly packaged view of our full name and a description, brief as it is, of who we are and what we do,” said Al Avina. “We believe it will complement BVA’s current quest to attain increased name recognition, greater awareness of our mission and services to veterans with vision loss, and additional support from potential volunteers and donors.” 

Other features of BVA’s revitalization plan include an upcoming freshly designed website, www.bva.org, fully integrated with the Association’s membership database and services.

Arlington Wreath Laying Highlights BVA Remembrances

 

Flanked by the traditional guided assistance provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Al Avina, Ed Eckroth, and Wade Davis marched forward in unison toward Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns as they presented the Blinded Veterans Association’s wreath on May 25.

The Memorial Day event joined BVA with dozens of other service organizations with similarly decorated floral wreaths honoring the men and women who have defended the United States in uniform and have ultimately given their last full measure of devotion, offering up their lives in service.

The wreath laying followed the 147th annual Memorial Day Observance at the Cemetery, which for several decades has occurred in the Memorial Amphitheater situated immediately behind the Tomb of the Unknowns. The solemn observance ceremony featured a Memorial Day address by President Barack Obama and remarks by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. Musical selections were provided by the United States Marine Band.

As part of the ceremony, President Obama also laid a wreath at the Tomb prior to his address as dozens from his official party and heads of military and veterans organizations, including Al Avina, looked on.

“So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American service members—men and women—who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan,” he said. 

President Obama also referred to Memorial Day 2015 as the first in 14 years that the United States was not involved in a major ground operation.

VA Secretary McDonald expressed similar sentiments in a statement released the Friday before the holiday: 

“Let us remember—as we renew our commitment to honor those we have lost—that every day, dedicated men and women put their lives on the line to protect all of us. We owe them our deepest gratitude.”

Adam Rowland Proves Anything Is Possible


Last August Adam and Arcelia Rowland of Cave Creek, Arizona, were participating in Operation Peer Support activities at the BVA 69th National Convention in Sparks, Nevada. A few months later Adam, a veteran of the U.S. Army now with no remaining sight, finished second in the Beginner Ranch Hand Sorting at the Arizona State finals.

He was also unanimously voted “Arizona’s Number One Ranch Sorting Champion.”

Ranch Sorting is a western-style equestrian rodeo sport that evolved from the common ranch work of separating cattle into pens for branding, doctoring, or transport. Ranch Sorting events pit a team of two riders on horseback against the clock. Teamwork is the key with both riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen while keeping the wrong numbered cattle back.

Adam was featured in the March-April 2015 issue of The Ranch Sorter Magazine. The article details his recovery from blunt force trauma to his head that caused a brain injury and loss of vision, the role of horse therapy in speeding up that recovery, and his subsequent decision to “chase some cattle” that led him to Kent and Janice Story, a couple who began working with Adam and eventually included him in their own competitive events.

At press time, Adam had plans to compete in the Ranch Sorting World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, this summer. He describes Ranch Sorting as his now “lifelong passion,” complete with lofty future plans.


March 28 Marks 70th Anniversary



BVA officially commemorated 70 years of service to blinded veterans and their families on March 28, 2015.

Veterans blinded during World War II established the Blinded Veterans Association at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital just outside Avon, Connecticut, on March 28, 1945. The founders of the new organization hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and regain their confidence and independence through education, rehabilitation, and camaraderie.
 
Through BVA’s tireless advocacy throughout its 70 years, blinded veterans now enjoy unprecedented access to world-class VA residential rehabilitation programs, technology, and the benefits and compensation that they have rightly earned as a result of their service.

Since 2010, the Association and its constituents and friends have referred to March 28 as Blind Veterans Day. The designation stems from House Joint Resolution 80 of the 111th Congress, authored by then Representative Debbie Halvorson of Illinois. The resolution, which acknowledged the Association’s humble beginnings and called upon all Americans to remember blinded veterans on March 28 in future years, was also passed by the Senate on March 18, 2010 and signed by President Barack Obama on April 7 of that same year.

Mississippi President Attends NIB Training

 

Herbert Humphrey, president of the BVA Mississippi Regional Group, participated in the 2015 National Industries for the Blind (NIB)/National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB) Public Policy Forum held April 27-29 in Alexandria, Virginia, just blocks from BVA’s new national headquarters location.

In addition to his responsibilities with the regional group, Herb is an Advocate for Leadership and Employment with an NIB-associated agency and attended the forum in that capacity.

Advocates are employees who are blind and interested in learning more about the public policy process. Over a two-year period, Advocates focus on effective communications, advocacy strategies, and grassroots initiatives. The employees’ agencies benefit by having a trained Advocate working on behalf of the shared mission to increase employment of people who are blind.

Herb stopped in at BVA for a brief visit with headquarters staff members shortly after arriving in town on April 27. He hooked up again the next day with Al Avina and Glenn Minney, both of whom also attended portions of the NIB training. Al is also a member of the NIB Board of Directors.

The three days of forum activities included an opening luncheon and keynote address by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno, numerous networking opportunities, panel discussions on the challenges of working with the General Services Administration and local elected officials, and a day on Capitol Hill with Advocates’ respective Members of Congress and their staffs.

5th Project Gemini Builds More Bridges


Four recently blinded veterans, all of whom participated in Operation Peer Support activities in the recent past, were special guests of Blind Veterans UK from May 30 to June 7.

Mark Cornell, Tom Zampieri, and David Epstein also accompanied the group. Epstein is the Director of Government Relations and Education for the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, a Washington, DC-based organization with which BVA often collaborates in an effort to promote research in the area of combat eye injuries.

The week of activities with BVA’s sister organization in the United Kingdom was the fifth in a series of exchanges with British blinded veterans that began “across the pond” in 2011. This year’s group was also comprised of two veterans from South Africa’s St. Dunstan’s Association.

The agenda included activities related to the 100th anniversary of Blind Veterans UK, which began operations in 1915. Among such activities was a visit to Buckingham Palace, where the group was treated to a special Blind Veterans UK centenary garden party. Blind cricket and wake boarding were also on the schedule.

“It was an awesome week,” said Retired Sergeant Adam Rowland. “I’ll never forget the camaraderie, the laughter, and the privilege of being among my fellow blind veterans.”
Project Gemini enables Blind Veterans UK and BVA to share experiences and knowledge about matters such as blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive technology for the blind. The program has been made possible in large part to a donation from Revision Military, which specializes in producing protective solutions for soldiers. The company recently signed a contract to provide ballistic protective eyewear as well as head and face protection for the British Army. 

Time and space constraints prevent a complete recap of the exchange and its participants in this issue of the Bulletin. Look for a detailed recap and photographs from Project Gemini #5 in the upcoming issue.

New Website Matches Runners, Sighted Guides



BVA member and former Marine Richard Hunter, Northern California Regional Group, is the brainchild behind an online resource that unites visually impaired runners and sighted guides across North America.

United in Stride, www.unitedinstride.com, is equipped with a feature to allow runners to tag a region on a map where they can train or where they are planning to travel for a race. They can then be paired with sighted guides who have made themselves available in that region. The runners can also enter other requirements, such as the pace at which they train and race.

The site provides runners with a simple way to accomplish something that was daunting in the past.

“We hope this resource eases the challenge of finding sighted guides close to home, or when traveling to another part of the country for vacation or a race,” said Richard. “We believe that a robust, interactive sighted guide database will create more opportunities for the next generation of visually impaired runners.”

Now a nationally recognized visually impaired Ironman triathlete, ultra-runner, and marathoner, Richard began competing in endurance events in 2007. He learned early on that finding running partners was a challenge, whether he was searching for sighted guides close to home or in other parts of the country.

As his network grew, he found himself spending time connecting other visually impaired athletes with training resources. Richard then provided seed money and engaged the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), the first organization to pair him with a sighted guide, to develop and manage the United in Stride website. The site is a collaborative effort among visually impaired runners, sighted guides, and MABVI. For years MABVI’s “Team with a Vision” initiative has informally helped match running pairs to participate in the Boston Marathon.

The goal is to assure that blind and visually impaired runners always have access to a training guide when needed and that running outdoors is no longer an obstacle. Such freedom will allow them to continue to push themselves as hard as any sighted runner despite their disability.

“We want people to share this resource with others who have their same passion to run and volunteer,” added Josh Warren, Development and Marketing Manager at MABVI. “They can share the sport they love with someone who would not otherwise be able to participate.”

Blinded Vet Panel Kicks Off ARVO Denver Conference



Three blinded U.S. military veterans affiliated with BVA’s Operation Peer Support initiative shared their stories of vision loss as a result of Traumatic Brain Injury suffered in combat situations as part of a special presentation and panel discussion May 2 in Denver, Colorado.

Despite different circumstances, all of the veterans had similar stories: several smaller exposures to mortar fire that caused ringing in the ears and headaches before a closer blast knocked them out.

The panel convened in a special preliminary session of the May 3-7 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) conference, the largest international gathering of eye and vision researchers attracting more than 11,000 attendees from approximately 75 countries.

Seated in dark glasses before the large gathering were Navy Chief Petty Officer Glenn Minney (Ret.), immediate past Director of Government Relations at BVA National Headquarters, severely injured in 2005 when an Iraqi mortar exploded 30 feet in front of him; Army Staff Sergeant Sean Johnson (Ret.), injured in the line of duty by a mortar blast in 2006; and Army Sergeant Shianti Lee (Ret.), injured in 2005 when the vehicle in which she was riding was hit by explosives while accompanying Special Forces on a mission in Taji, Iraq.

Attendees were told that recent studies indicate that cumulative hits to the head may be better indicators of Traumatic Brain Injury and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy than single hit concussions. They also learned of future research on the horizon regarding the symptoms of brain injuries that can be detected in eyes and a predictor of who may be most at risk.

Following panelist participation and their stories of vision loss, a question and answer period was open to participation by all attendees. Retired National Football League running back Terrell Davis, Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXXII (1998), was in attendance and presented closing comments at the end of the session.

Davis’s relationship to TBI extends back to his playing days and the very aforementioned Super Bowl, a game in which he experienced a concussion and temporary blindness. In his remarks he petitioned researchers to work “day and night” to find answers that could help families of both football and combat wars.

Each of the panelists was legally blind while retaining a minimal degree of vision. All experienced Traumatic Brain Injury among their multiple injuries. BVA first became acquainted with them and their stories when inviting them to attend a BVA national convention as part of Operation Peer Support.

BVA Members Shine At Winter Sports Clinic



BVA Region 6 Claims Officer Eileen Vasquez was one of a handful of blinded veterans and some 360 veterans from across the country to converge on Snowmass Village, Colorado, March 29-April 3 for the 29th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Eileen and her husband, Jon, were also interviewed for an article about the event in the Aspen Daily News that appeared in the publication’s March 30 edition.

Eileen and Jon were both deployed on September 11, 2001 and served on active duty together on the USS Enterprise. They were medically discharged within the same period of time. The two participated in the Winter Sports Clinic together, something VA spokesperson Charity Edgar called “pretty unique” in the Daily News article.

Eileen told the Daily News that she was most looking forward to downhill skiing, a sport she learned 20 years earlier before losing much of her sight and developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jon skied for the first time since a brain injury, which contributes to difficulty with balance at times.

She also mentioned the more obvious benefit of sports in helping a veteran improve his/her physical health while also explaining its role in overcoming depression, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health issues.

Back home in St. Paul, Minnesota, Eileen and Jon attempt to stay active by regularly riding a recumbent bicycle, fly fishing, and playing golf. They have also kayaked on whitewater and have gone hunting with a group from the local Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

All of the Winter Sports Clinic competitors are challenged in their lives with at least one disability that in some cases includes vision loss.

The clinic consists of five days of physically demanding competition, training, instructional workshops, rehabilitative recreation, and leisure activities that offer participants new opportunities for camaraderie and the attainment of new personal heights.

Co-sponsored and organized by VA and DAV, the clinic is the largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world today.
The activities of 1987, its inaugural year, were primarily adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing. They have grown over the years to curling, scuba diving, fly fishing, wheelchair golf, wheelchair self-defense, wheelchair fencing, amputee volleyball, rock wall climbing, sled hockey, trap shooting, blues harmonica instruction, dog sledding, kayaking, and even goal ball for the blind and visually impaired.

The clinic targets disabled veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, and visual impairments. It seeks to enable veterans to re-discover their lives after facing a new disability and encouraging them to reject the limits that society poses on them because of it. The long-term goal is to help the disabled veteran achieve higher levels of self-actualization and empower him/her to live a happier, healthier, and more productive lifestyle.

Although expenses such as lift tickets, meals, and equipment are covered by the event, attendees pay for their own transportation and hotel rooms. The balance of the event budget, approximately 80 percent, is taken care of by donations and sponsorships.

Cape Cod BVA Pioneer Celebrates 90th on Islands

by Adele Geringer, Providence VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator

Clifford Fisher was the founder of the Cape Cod and Islands Chapter of the Blinded Veterans Association.  I was invited to help celebrate his 90th birthday on February 21 of this year.

Cliff was honored at this luncheon by his BVA colleagues and by the Providence VA Medical Center where he volunteered as an ambassador to the VIST Program.

As an advocate for blinded veterans, Cliff would always come to my office to demand the most advanced technology on their behalf.

He wanted MOVI cameras for all of the BVA officers so that they could have “distance meetings” from home with a visual. I was not able to provide this but I was able to set up telehealth service in the Hyannis clinic where Cliff brought my first telehealth participants: himself and another couple.

Although the blinded veterans were not able to see me, their spouses were. One of the great things that resulted was that the veterans were able to show me items that may have been in need of repair or of which I otherwise needed a visual in order to help their cause.

As an ambassador, Cliff was my only veteran who volunteered for this program, helping me recruit new blinded veterans into the VIST Program that would eventually provide them with needed services and benefits.

Cliff did a great job as an ambassador. He found and recruited many new veterans for me. I told him I was not sure what he did in that program but shortly after he left the program it closed down and no more potential ambassadors were admitted for training.

Cliff was always coming to visit me at lunch time, especially on Passover where he would see me eating matzohs, an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the week-long Passover holiday. He assured me that he would have matzohs for me at the BVA luncheon if it ever fell during Passover.

Because Cliff worked for FEMA and I knew he was into emergency preparedness, I awarded him, besides a Certificate of Appreciation for his time with me as a volunteer, a box of emergency matzohs so that he would be prepared for any holiday luncheon emergency.

Earl Caudill represented the Cape Cod and Islands Regional Group in awarding Cliff a second Certificate of Appreciation and a gift certificate for all he has done to found this group on the Cape. He also told a funny tale about Cliff that goes back to the BVA 65th National Convention in Washington:
Earl apparently put his cell phone charger in the wall on one side of the room. Cliff, needing a cell phone charger, used the charger to charge his own cell phone. Then, believing it to be his own charger, he took Earl’s charger by mistake and put it away. Throughout the conference Earl kept asking Cliff if he had seen the missing cell phone charger. Cliff said no and Earl eventually got a replacement through the hotel lobby to use while he was there. On the day they were leaving, Cliff looked in his coat pocket to find his own cell phone charger. He then apologized to Earl and returned the missing charger.

Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group President Randy Durrigan added his two cents, some of which is connected to that same convention. His comments were as follows:

“Cliff did a great job as president of the Cape Cod and Islands Regional Group. He is much appreciated for his efforts with that and also for his service as a VA volunteer.

“When I was asked to say something at Cliff's 90th birthday celebration, I was at first worried and at a loss as to what to say. Then it was brought to my attention that it was going to be a ‘Roast’. That said, it opened up all sorts of possibilities because Cliff is a practical joker.

“One example: The time that he called me from the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West Haven.

“He began the conversation in a high-pitched voice, pretending to be a female flirting with me. 

“Still another example occurred again at the BVA 65th National Convention in Washington. Tom Miller, then the Executive Director, asked all of the veterans from World War II to stand and be recognized. Cliff stood up. They gave him a piece of cake. Then they recognized the Korean War veterans and Cliff stood again. They gave him a second piece of cake. I thought at the time how great it was great that Cliff was in both wars. Then they asked the Vietnam veterans to stand and, wouldn’t you know it, Cliff stood a third time. He got another piece of cake. In fairness to Cliff, I’m not sure if he knew what was being asked or if he just liked cake.

“That's my buddy, Cliff Fisher. We've had a lot of laughs and I'm sure we'll have many more.”

Jim Stevens Artwork Subject of New Video



Wheat Ridge, Colorado artist, author, martial arts champion, and BVA life member Jim Stevens is featured along with his work in a new video.

The production shows Jim’s scrimshaw, mosaic, and monofilament art and parts of a workshop he conducted with visually impaired students. It was released earlier this year by the Mt. Baker Neighborhood Center for the Arts in Seattle, Washington, and is available for online viewing at https://vimeo.com/120635383.

Jim is also known in VA and BVA circles for his Special Recognition Award from nearly 1,900 artist entries in the National VA Creative Arts Festival three years ago. He lost his sight as a result of combat wounds to the head while serving as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The injury left him with bullet fragments and severe migraines that were eventually linked to a stroke in his visual cortex 23 years later. He was suddenly legally blind with only two degrees of vision in both eyes.

For more information about Jim and his works of art, visitwww.scrimshawstudio.com.

Pennsylvania Recognizes Interim VISN Director


Former BVA National President and now BVA of Pennsylvania Regional Group President Neil Appleby recognized Carla Sivek with a Braille U.S. Flag in a presentation on April 10.

Sivek was appointed as the Interim Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 in December 2014. She was formerly the Deputy Director of the Network.

Neil, also a member of the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission, made the presentation at the monthly Commission meeting in the Pennsylvania city of Indiantown Gap.

“Carla is a great friend to blinded veterans, Visual Impairment Services Teams, and Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists,” said Neil. “She goes out of her way and beyond the call of duty to help us, most recently by directing VA Medical Center CEOs to make sure that VISTs and BROS could attend and train at our BVA national and state conventions.”

Spring Meeting Productive for R.I.-Southeast Mass Group


Rhode Island State Representative William O’Brien presented a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island State Legislature to the Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group at its May 16 spring luncheon.

Filling in for Regional Group President Randy Durrigan, Vice President Anthony Ricci represented the group’s membership in accepting the grant at Il Fornello Restaurant in Providence.
According to VIST volunteer Carl Hytinen, Representative O’Brien helped the group obtain the grant to help defray the cost of the two luncheons it sponsors each year for all blinded veterans in the area.

The luncheon also featured presentations by diabetic nurses John Pimental of Insight Health Solutions of Providence and Annette Lapre, a nurse at the Providence VA Medical Center. Pimental, who is also blind, spoke on how to enhance one’s memory while Lapre addressed VA’s approach to prevention and maintaining good health as a diabetic. Included in the latter’s presentation were tips on VA peripheral neuropathy treatments.