Of Note


Hines Mourns Loss of “Queen” of Volunteers

America’s blinded veterans have lost one of their most dedicated and notable servants.

Melody Angelini, beloved longtime volunteer at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines and well-known among BVA members for her service to the Hines alumni, passed away April 19 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago after months of poor health.

A volunteer at the Center for nearly 40 years, Melody was most recently Executive Secretary of the Hines Blind Center Alumni Volunteer Program. She was considered the “Queen” of the program. She continually volunteered at Hines social and extracurricular events for the veterans, even when such events involved travel to another state. She was, for example, seen year after year accompanying Hines trainees at the TEE Tournament in Iowa City.

“The Blind Center has lost an incredible volunteer,” said Alumni President Bill McCloskey. “Her dedication to the BRC and the Hines Alumni Association leaves a big hole to fill.”
Melody began volunteering at the BRC on Thursday evenings in 1977. She continued to be engaged with many of the same activities with the veterans until only recently. She first assisted other volunteers from the Military Order of the Purple Heart in making veterans feel important at the weekly dances and social gatherings.

Melody later helped organize the Hospitalized War Veterans, a group that holds activities such as formal Easter dinners, dances, sailboat outings, and Brookfield Zoo trips.

Melody and her late husband Lou Angelini, a BRC graduate and member of BVA, founded the Hines Alumni Association. She also served as the editor of the Hines Torch, the quarterly publication of the BRC.

Melody received the prestigious Disabled American Veterans George H. Seal Memorial Trophy at the DAV National Convention in Orlando, Florida, in August 2013.

Melody is survived by four children, two sisters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Economic Potential Aim of VA Campaign

VA Secretary McDonald announced May 18 the launch of the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI), a campaign designed to increase education and employment opportunities for America’s veterans in 50 cities nationwide.

VECI will bring together local and national employers to coordinate services for veterans, service members, and military families. The effort will involve leaders from national and local Veterans Service Organizations, corporate employers, and government agencies.

“The best way to get things done for veterans is to involve partners from both the public and privates sectors, national and local,” said Secretary McDonald. “If history has shown us anything, it’s that all you have to do is give veterans an opportunity and they will go beyond anything you could ever envision.”

The initiative is part of “MyVA,” a larger effort announced last November to provide greater access to care for all veterans with customer service as the focal point.

“Community leaders understand the purpose of MyVA and will find innovative ways to support it,” said Secretary McDonald.
VECI includes a VA Economic Liaison in each community who will expand and encourage collaboration among private and public organizations that offer resources related to education, training, and employment. Through strategic partnerships, and by offering veterans innovative forms of learning and employment opportunities, communities will help veterans gain competitive career skills and knowledge in locally in-demand fields.

The first 25 communities were chosen based on local veteran unemployment rates, veteran population, and the projected increase in veteran population.

Resources and education utilized by VECI will include employment summits that connect talented job seekers with local employers who have job openings; policy academies where experts generate ideas, form partnerships, and make policy recommendations; and learning/resource hubs to help connect veterans to economic opportunities such as entrepreneurship, credentialing, and skills building.

Study Validates Adaptive Sports

Not likely surprising to those already engaged in adaptive sports activities, a recent study provides additional evidence that wheelchair basketball and other activities can help disabled veterans boost their self-esteem and lead healthier lives.

The research was headed and authored by Justin Laferrier, a U.S. Army veteran now at the University of Connecticut but formerly the leader of amputee physical therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland and the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Laferrier and his team looked at 220 disabled veterans recruited in 2009 and 2010 from the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the U.S. Olympic Committee Warrior Games, and the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic to participate in sled hockey, archery, swimming, and wheelchair basketball. They looked at participation in individual sports, team sports, or a combination of the two. They used various self-esteem and quality-of-life scales, noting physical and psychological health, social relationships, and the environment.

The veterans had spinal cord injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, upper or lower limb amputations, and chronic diseases like arthritis, digestive problems, heart trouble, and diabetes.

The more the veterans participated in the sports after they were injured, the significantly better their quality of life was. The more years they participated, the more their self-esteem increased.

Veterans with more than ten years of participation since their injury scored an average of 27 on a self-esteem scale (with the highest rating being 30), compared to veterans with one to five years who scored 23. Veterans who participated mainly in individual sports and recreation had much lower self-esteem averaging 22, whereas those who did team events or a combination of team and individual events scored higher at a 25 average.

“A number of patients have told me that even after going through rehabilitation and even after being able to accomplish activities of daily living, they never truly felt like themselves until they participated in adaptive sports,” said Laferrier. 
He also said veterans can turn to several organizations for adaptive sports, including U.S. Paralympics, Disabled Sports USA, and VA Medical Centers.

The BVA Bulletin will attempt to publicize such sports activities serving blinded veterans to a much greater extent in the future. Please send announcements and news of activities to Stuart Nelson, snelson@bva.org.

VA “Summer of Service” Bolsters Assistance to Vets

In an effort to renew its commitment to veterans, VA has embarked on a “Summer of Service” that seeks to build upon its already existing partnerships to increase the number of individuals and organizations serving veterans in their communities.

“While there is more work to do to honor our sacred commitment to veterans, we also recognize that VA cannot do it alone,” said Secretary McDonald. “We are asking Americans everywhere to join the Summer of Service and help us give back to those who have given so much to our nation.”

Throughout the summer months, VA will be working closely with Congressional partners, Veterans Service Organizations, mayors and local communities, private sector and nonprofit organizations, and VA employees to identify innovative, new ways to support VA’s commitment to care for those who “have borne the battle” and their families.

Summer of Service kicks off with open houses in VA facilities during the week of June 28. VA hopes to achieve the following four goals by Labor Day:

• Increase its number of volunteers to 100,000 from its current 76,000.
• Expand current agreements to provide services and support reaching more than 15,000 veterans and their families.
• Hire clinicians and clinical support staff to further expand access to care and reduce homelessness.
• Host Members of Congress and staffs at VA facilities across the country.

To locate needs of local VA facilities, visithttp://www.volunteer.va.gov. Follow #VASummerOfService on Vantage Point, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.