BVA Member Honored with VA National Volunteer Award
James Hogan, a longtime member of the Southern California Regional Group and a volunteer with the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System for the past 12 years, has been recognized as VA’s National Male Volunteer of the Year.
VA Male Volunteer of the Year James Hogan and guide dog Atticus. Photo courtesy of Raymond Arellano, VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System.
The official award presentation will occur during the 69th Annual VA Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee Meeting and Conference to be held April 22-24, 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A resident of Canyon Country, California, James has logged more than 2,800 hours of voluntary service during his tenure. He is one of 260 BVA volunteers nationwide performing 34,177 hours of service during BVA’s Fiscal Year 2014 (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014).
James’ dedicated service has also involved his wife, Pam, who volunteers with him. In addition, his guide dog of ten years, Atticus, has also worked as a therapy dog for VA Healthcare System patients.
James performs a multitude of volunteer tasks as a VA volunteer, serving blind and visually impaired veterans who are enrolled in the Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) program. As such, he helps veterans attend fishing trips by arranging transportation and lodging and has organized other recreational outings as well. He also helps organize monthly VIST Support Group activities. One of his specialties is outreach to younger Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans and their families regarding benefits, adjustment to disability, and educational opportunities. He also actively serves his fellow blinded veterans within his BVA regional group.
James visits regularly with veterans at the Sepulveda VA Community Living Center and Hospice and mobilizes the local Disabled American Veterans chapter to bring goodies and cheer to hospitalized patients. Accompanied by Pam and Atticus, he visits veterans at the California State Veterans Homes in the Cities of Lancaster, Ventura, Barstow, and West Los Angeles.
James, Pam, and Atticus work with Vietnam Veterans of America on their annual Homeless Stand Downs in Ventura and Antelope Valley, California. They help the Elks raise funds for the annual veterans’ luncheon at their lodge and work with Boy and Girl Scouts to place more than 6,000 flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, James Hogan was diagnosed with hearing loss as a young boy and quickly began utilizing hearing devices. Determined to fulfill his dream of serving his country, he enlisted in the Navy. After serving 4½ years in Vietnam combat areas, he re-entered civilian life in 1973. Ten years later, he was diagnosed with Ushers II, a degenerative disease that causes both vision and hearing loss.
Despite his setbacks, James has worked relentlessly to maintain his active lifestyle. He, Pam, and Atticus are often seen riding through town on a Lightfoot Duo Recumbent Cycle, a side-by-side, two-seat quadracycle they obtained after a refresher course James took at the Palo Alto VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in 2012. He has also been an avid spokesman for the HearStrong Foundation on behalf of those with hearing loss. Last year he was named a HearStrong champion by the organization.
Chicago Service Officer Retires from BVA
BVA National Service Officer for Region IV Daniel Johnson announced his retirement from BVA in early January. His last day in the office was February 27 after more than 3½ years of service.
Daniel reopened the Region IV office in Chicago in October 2011 while brand new to BVA. The office had previously been located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With office space in the Hines VA Hospital, Daniel set out to negotiate a return to the VA Regional Office in which the BVA space was located prior to the relocation to Milwaukee.
“Getting the office space back for BVA was possibly my major accomplishment,” he said. “I had to convince the Regional Office Director, Duane Honeycutt, that this was a worthwhile venture, establishing credibility with him that I would be there processing claims for blinded veterans so that he would personally want us to be there.”
Daniel said that the funding was finally located to construct an office that would not have to be shared with any other organization.
While looking forward to “living the second half of his life” in order to do the things he’s always wanted to do, Daniel said he would miss the intrinsic rewards inherent in working on behalf of blinded veterans.
“One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job has been the opportunity to help blinded veterans with limited income actually win a claim,” he stated. “Working on behalf of veterans accustomed to living on a few hundred dollars a month and helping them raise their standard of living was very rewarding.”
Although he is leaving full-time employment, Daniel does not plan on disconnecting from BVA in any sense of the word.
“I hope to be at the forefront of the regional group and its activities,” he said. “I hope to be in a position to attend the national conventions for many years to come.”
Meditation Bench Dedication Subject of Historic Photos
Some careful scrutiny of drawers and files by Ed Eckroth and Field Service Program Assistant Judith Bouton as the recent national headquarters move was carried out brought to light a few historic black and white prints of photos taken more than 40 years ago (cover photos).
The August 6, 1973 occasion was the dedication of a meditation bench donated by BVA to the Thomas J. Carroll Rehabilitation Center in Newton, Massachusetts, in honor of Father Carroll, BVA’s first National Chaplain and a pioneer in the field of blind rehabilitation, most notably rehabilitation among returning World War II service members with combat battlefield eye injuries resulting in blindness. The Carroll Center was originally founded by Father Carroll as the Catholic Guild for the Blind with the name change occurring following his passing in 1971.
“The bench was still there on the second floor of the main building right outside the board room the last time I was there,” said former Executive Director of the Carroll Center Rachel Rosenbaum (33 years, 1976-2009).
Receiving the donation in 1971 on behalf of the Carroll Center was Acting Executive Director Frederick Picard III, Father Carroll’s immediate successor prior to his death and for three years afterward.
“The ‘ceremony’ was brief, simple, and marked by powerful and emotion-laden recollections of Father’s work with and love for the Blinded Veterans Association,” Picard recounted in a letter to BVA a few days after the dedication. “We think the meditation bench is a handsome one; it is now in St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center, with the BVA seal placed in the middle of the backrest—definitely a good-looking piece of bronze work done by Bob Amendola.”
Also present for the occasion was Agnes Callahan, sister of Father Carroll. Fred Silver, Administrator of St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Program and a speaker at the Father Carroll Luncheon a quarter century later at the BVA 53rd National Convention in Chicago, also attended the dedication. St. Paul’s Rehabilitation program later became known as the Carroll Center’s rehabilitation program. It was an adult rehabilitation program modeled on the old Avon Old Farms experiment as part of the Catholic Guild for the Blind. Silver was a longtime associate of Father Carroll’s.
David Schnair, BVA volunteer in New York City and member of the Board of Directors from 1952 until 1993, also participated in the dedication with longtime BVA Florida Regional Group member Simon Gerbush. Robert Amendola, master sculptor who conceived of and designed the original BVA emblem in the late 1940s, was also there and included in the photos. Amendola designed the bronze BVA emblem in the center of the bench.
Rowing Program Launches Through Providence VA
Holding a strong belief that recreation and being part of a team that has fun can be major components in one’s rehabilitative journey, BROS Amber Vaillancourt has helped organize a blinded veterans rowing team with support from her local station in Providence, Rhode Island.
The team’s first practice, which included both Rhode Island-Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group President Randy Durrigan and a 95-year-old veteran, took place January 13 at a Warren, Rhode Island gym rowing studio. It also included two veterans transferred to higher erg machines from a wheelchair and a walker.
“We had eight of our 16 enrolled vets age 45-95 in attendance,” said Vaillancourt, who started as a BROS just last June. “The instructors familiarized them with the ergs and how to strap in and get their feet out, along with the very basics of rowing.”
First-time rowers were introduced to terminology and movements that go along with such terms during a light workout. Concepts such as “catch” and “finish” were discussed.
“At the end of the day smiles were seen all around and we had some really good laughs,” she said. “Everyone seemed comfortable with this new adventure and each veteran managed to mention to me that that he/she cannot wait to come next time.”
Vaillancourt said the veterans even started brainstorming names for a team mascot and cheers, among them the Providence Row Cats to pay homage to their local VA, to the sport itself, and to members of the Lions Club who have generously sponsored them.
“I always dreamed of working for VA because of my impression that veterans were so much more prepared than folks who couldn’t go to a VA facility for rehabilitation,” she said. “Because I have received so much support from different departments and specialties within the hospital to bolster our blind rehab’s program offerings, I knew we had a real shot at making this a reality.”
In addition to the support from VA, Vaillancourt also credits the training she received at a recent adaptive sports conference sponsored by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) for making the new team possible.
“I was able to pull this together because I had confidence in how to accommodate my veterans who happened to be blind,” said Vaillancourt. “I was also fortunate to attend the sports conference at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where I learned how to adapt track and field, judo, cycling, rowing, goalball, and rifle shooting/biathlon.”
Vaillancourt said she’d been trying to start a goalball or rifle shooting program when Paul Varszegi, President and Founder of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Veterans’ Rowing and Kayaking, approached the Physical Therapy Department at the Providence VA Medical Center about starting a rowing group or team. Varszegi was eventually referred to Vaillancourt because of the latter’s interest in adaptive sports.
“The rowing idea has worked,” she said. “Being a part of a rowing team allows the veteran to learn so much about adjustment to vision loss and to develop orientation and mobility skills.”
She said that rowing helps veterans with sight loss know how to be aware of their body position, how to orient themselves in relation to their surroundings, and how to learn new routes.
“These benefits could all be accomplished by other means but rowing gives them exposure to something else that is new to them,” she said. “So many of my veterans have told me how much they want to get out and be with others.”
Varszegi was equally optimistic after the first practice.
“This is truly a great achievement because it has never been done in any VA hospital program in the country so now we will set the standard for other VA facilities in our region.”
Varszegi said he hoped to build on the success and get other VA Medical Centers involved. He also hopes to help departments/clinics such as the amputee and cancer units create their own programs with Veterans’ Rowing and Kayaking, which serves veterans in the East Coast region who suffer from PTSD, TBI, and other health-related issues.
Scholarship Applications For 2015-16 Soon Due
In late spring BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2015-16 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 scholarship is for $1,000.
The Miller program, now in its third year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards except for an added emphasis on music and 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 more than 30 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 obtained from the Blinded Veterans Association, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314, at www.bva.org/services.html
(look on Programs page in section entitled “Kathern F. Gruber Scholarships and Thomas H. Miller Awards”).
Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 17, 2015. 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.
Two Mowers Make Mark At Mobile Medical Clinic
BVA Director of District 4 Bob Mower and his wife, Patricia, have once again participated in a VA Puget Sound Health Care System Rural Outreach Mobile Medical Clinic. The five-day event was held November 17-21 at the Silver Reef Hotel Casino in Ferndale, Washington.
Hosted by the Lummi nation, the clinic mirrored a similar event held in 2012 for the Snohomish Native American Tribe at which Bob and Patricia were also present.
The mission of the clinic is to bring blind rehabilitation services out to rural visually impaired veterans who have limited or no access to VA facilities in their area. It also seeks to bring VA services to veterans where they reside, seeing both Tribal and Non-Tribal.
The effort also involved not only blind rehabilitation and low-vision services but assistance with VA enrollment, primary care services, counseling/benefits for combat veterans, assistance with disability claims for compensation, and pension and legal assistance.
“We did locate two blinded veterans while we were on this outreach, which was one of our main purposes,” said Bob. “These veterans are now in the VA Health Care System and hopefully headed to blind rehabilitation in the not too distant future.”
Activities during the week included 91 veteran encounters (33 new enrollments, 22 intake/vesting appointments, 39 primary care appointments), 35 claims serviced, two veterans given services by the Tacoma Mobile Vet Center, and 36 services related to blindness and low vision.
“The impressive numbers demonstrate the tremendous dedication and commitment to this project by VA and non-VA individuals,” said Cathy Davidson, Project Manager for the Clinic and Minority Veterans Program Coordinator for the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.
The Lummi Nation are a Native American Tribe of the Coast Salish ethnolinguistic group in western Washington. Estimates indicate that there are 6,590 people living on the Lummi Reservation. The unemployment rate of 25.1 percent of Lummi’s workforce is estimated to be three times the local average. The median monthly income for employed Lummi Tribal members is approximately $2,000, far below the national average and a contributing factor to the lack of access to affordable health care for everyone, including veterans.
BRS Pioneer Papadimoulis Retires from VA Service
Ellen Papadimoulis, longtime VIST Coordinator, recent BRC Chief, and loyal friend of the Blinded Veterans Association, has retired from VA service after 41 years, including the last three as the first Director of the BRC at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.
Her last day was January 2, 2015. A resident of Fairview Park, Ohio, Ellen was honored by a City Council resolution at its January 5 public meeting to congratulate Ellen on her retirement.
Ellen was among the six original VIST Coordinators hired together in 1978. One year earlier, BVA’s Florida Regional Group submitted a resolution to the 32nd National Convention in Washington, DC, urging VA to establish full-time VIST Coordinators. VA Central Office responded by funding full-time Coordinators for the first time: Ellen in Cleveland, Ohio; Jay Fox in Seattle, Washington; Mark Voorhies in San Francisco; Randy Greene in Houston, Texas; Trudy Rothenberg in Miami, Florida; and Michele Swartz in New York City.
Ellen graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Applied Social Sciences with a Master of Science in Social Administration in 1974. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1972, graduating cum laude.
Ellen married Aristotle “Tely” Papadimoulis on August 25, 1973. Together they had two sons; Alexander and Nicholas. Ellen has one grandchild, Greyson. Tely and Ellen were married for 38 years until his untimely death in 2011.
Ellen helped plan and design all aspects of the Cleveland BRC with the design team and activated the 15-bed inpatient unit in August 2011. She hired the social worker, support assistant, and all blind rehabilitation specialists, including the supervisors. She was responsible for the overall planning, development, implementation, direction, and evaluation of the program.
As the VIST Coordinator at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center for 28 years, Ellen coordinated a service delivery system for more than 800 blinded veterans and their families in northeastern Ohio.
Ellen has been the recipient of numerous professional awards and certificates. Most recently, she received the DAV outstanding VHA Employee of 2012, a national award, and was a finalist for VA’s Olin Teague Award in 2011.
She has plans to enjoy herself through local and international travel. Spending more time with family and friends and gardening are on her list of things to do.
Ellen will be missed by not only her immediate staff and the entire local and national blind rehabilitation community but also by BVA and individual veterans. Many are forever in her debt for the extraordinary service she rendered to America’s blinded veterans.
BVA Members, EBRC Trainees Gather at Veterans Day Parade
Members of the Connecticut Regional Group recently offered trainees attending the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center (EBRC) at West Haven the opportunity to participate in the 15th Connecticut Veterans Parade held November 2 in downtown Hartford.
The invitation was the third of its kind extended by the group during the past three years.
Participation by the group of blind and visually impaired veterans demonstrated their support of the statewide parade honoring all United States Armed Forces veterans and their affiliates who have served to ensure the nation’s safety and freedom.
“It was a cool day with winds up around 20 miles per hour, but at least it was sunny,” assured Director of District 1 David VanLoan and the primary organizer and inviter of the EBRC veterans.
The Salvation Army Canteen was once again onsite at the beginning of the parade route, as was VA with its famous cookies. Apples were donated by Bell Orchards in nearby Glastonbury, Connecticut. Also in the staging area were coffee and donuts next to the Metropolitan District Water Truck.
While most of the group chose to ride during the 1.3 mile trek, this did not stop a small contingency of regional group members from walking. The latter were Randall Henry, David VanLoan, Sr., Austin Grimshaw (David’s grandson), Sarah Bowman (West Haven VIST Coordinator), EBRC Staff Member Jenn Berg, and Maine Regional Group member Stanley Munson.
Riding were Douglas Reid, Joseph Flannigan, Cam Boyer, Robert Harriman, and the EBRC trainees. Drivers were Tom Knapp, a staff member at the EBRC; David VanLoan, Jr. (son of BVA Director of District 1); and Stewart Reid.
National Service Officer Assumes Duties in Houston
Field Service Director Ed Eckroth has announced the appointment of Claudia Belk, as the organization’s National Field Service Officer for Region 5 based in Houston, Texas. Claudia fills the position left open by Wade Davis, who relocated to Washington, DC and Region 2 earlier this year. Claudia’s new assignment took effect on December 22.
Claudia joined the U.S. Air Force in 1995. She served for more than five years before losing her sight at age 24. She was medically retired as a Staff Sergeant.
Claudia participated in blind rehabilitation training at the EBRC in 2001 and graduated from the Computer Access Training course the same year. In addition to residential training, she also credits her rehabilitation to then Washington, DC Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinator Lillie Kennedy, who led her to employment with BVA. She joined the organization in May 2006 as a Field Service Representative. Since that time she has assisted hundreds of veterans nationwide.
“The job has been humbling to this point and it’s been an honor to serve blind veterans of all eras,” she said. “I look forward to continuing my work, now within the Region 5 service area, with blind veterans’ claims to the entitlements that they have rightfully earned.”
As an accredited National Service Officer, Claudia will cover a region that includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, and Texas.
BVA Lands Appointment on VAVS Executive Committee
BVA has been awarded a two-year appointment on the prestigious Executive Committee of the Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) National Advisory Committee (NAC) for 2015-16. The appointment is effective through December 31, 2016.
Field Service Director Ed Eckroth learned of the decision in a letter dated December 23, 2014.
The Executive Committee is designated as the governing body between the annual meetings of the National Advisory Committee and is entrusted with the responsibility of fulfilling the NAC charter.
Acceptance of the charter requires active BVA attendance and participation at four meetings: the 69th VAVS NAC Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 22-24, 2015; the 70th VAVS NAC Annual Meeting (location and date to be determined); and two Executive Committee meetings during the fall of 2015 and 2016.
Social Engagements Unite Richmond Chapter
Members of BVA’s Richmond Chapter of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group have recently come together for at least two unprecedented social activities. The first, a ride on the Spirit of Norfolk Cruise Line in the Tidewater region of the State of Virginia, also included Hardy Alexander, a regional group member from the Hampton Chapter. Richmond participants were regional group secretary Michaun Harrison, Gregg Bennett, and Doris Jones.
The second event was the Richmond Chapter’s first-ever holiday party at T.K. Tripps Restaurant in the southern section of Richmond. It was organized and coordinated by VIST Coordinator Evelyn Heatwole.
Seated at T.J. Tripps Restaurant in Richmond, left to right, VIST Coordinator and event organizer Evelyn Heatwole, blinded veterans Jim Soper and Robert Zettler, chapter secretary and regional group president Doris Jones, chapter vice president Michael White, assistant volunteer office manager and regional group vice president/chaplain Gregory Bennett, and blinded veteran Edward Johnson. Standing behind, left to right, volunteer Dianna Gillard, blinded veteran Robert Adkins; Recreation Therapist Danielle Orr, blinded veteran James Jackson, Dr. Clyde Jackson (Volunteer Office Manager, chapter treasurer, and regional group chaplain), Vanessa Jackson (wife of Clyde), regional group secretary Michaun Harrison, and Recreation Therapist Krystall Pinckney.
“Although holiday parties are not typically out of the ordinary for anyone, this one was for us extraordinary because we enjoyed ourselves so much after having never previously gone anywhere together as a group,” said Mid-Atlantic Regional Group Treasurer and Chaplain Dr. Clyde Jackson.
Members of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group left to right next to Spirit of Norfolk, Hardy Alexander from the Hampton Chapter and Michaun Harrison, Gregg Bennett, and Doris Jones from the Richmond Chapter.
Regional Group Secretary Michaun Harrison echoed the same sentiments.
“We want to let our BVA family know that we are enjoying the activities that BVA and our local chapters sponsor for us and we greatly appreciate each and every person that makes the outings possible,” she said.
Young Marines of Pensacola Assist in Vets Day Parade
Two members of the Young Marines of Pensacola, Florida, recently assisted Pensacola area blinded veterans by carrying their Florida BVA banner throughout the Veterans Day parade route in downtown Pensacola.
It was the second consecutive year that the veterans received help from the Young Marines at the November 11 parade.
According to Paul Kaufman, Florida Regional Group, Private Angela Carroll and Private First Class Tajae White were most helpful as they held the BVA banner and guided both him and Darryl Goldsmith along the route. He also said that Master Sergeant Cato, the group’s adult leader at the parade, was the individual who initially offered the help and tasked the two Marines with the assignment.
Left to right, Paul Kaufman, Darryl Goldsmith, and guide dog Fluzie with BVA Florida Regional Group banner at Pensacola Veterans Day Parade.
“The service was volunteered on the spot with no previous notice or contact,” said Paul. “Generous offers of help such as this, small as it may seem to some, are always appreciated.”
Although Darryl was also accompanied by guide dog Fluzie, who would likely have assured a walk without injury or accident, the veterans were still grateful for the additional assistance.
“The example set by the Young Marines is much appreciated and valued by our veterans,” said Paul.
The Young Marines of Pensacola, part of the national organization Young Marines, was established in 2007. Its mission is to positively impact America’s future by providing quality youth development programs for boys and girls 8 years old through high school.
BVA of PA Member Looks to Seoul Games
Charles King, Jr., Philadelphia resident and a member of the Blinded Veterans of Pennsylvania Regional Group, is now competing on a world class level as a blind power lifter and hopes to soon compete in the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) World games in the sport of power lifting.
The games will be held May 8-15 in Seoul, South Korea.
“I want to be a role model for other older adults who face both mental and physical challenges, especially blindness,” he said.
Charles has faced more than his share of adversity, including homelessness, depression, cancer, degenerative arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and loss of a young daughter.
After recovering from prostate cancer, Charles resumed the weight training he had begun earlier and was referred by VA to a training camp run by the United States Association of Blind Athletes. Camp officials introduced him to the sport of powerlifting. Although it was not an easy task for him, Charles located three different gym facilities in which to work out, a coach to provide training, and drivers and para-transit for travel.
“With the help of God, my family, my doctors at the VA, my coach, and my friend, I have been able to learn to manage my diabetes and arthritic pain while maintaining a high level of physical training,” he said.
Charles first competed in the International World Games for the Blind as a power lifter in the IBSA 2012 games held in Orlando, Florida, at the age of 62. He set a world record for a 407-pound deadlift for a blind power lifter over the age of 60 and won a Gold Medal for the United States. He was acknowledged as the oldest competing blind power lifter in the world.
Charles hopes that his training and fundraising efforts for the travel will eventually result in a chance to compete in Seoul.