Executive Director’s Page BVA Executive Director Al Avina

by Al Avina

The Blinded Veterans Association and its members have a long and successful history of enacting change within VA to better assist and empower any and all blinded veterans.

Consequently, BVA has had quite an impact on and within the greater blind community.  

As early as 1947, BVA adopted resolutions in assembled convention calling for the establishment of a comprehensive inpatient blind rehabilitation program for all of the returning war blinded veterans. The organization then began educating the U.S. Congress and VA regarding this apparent need. These efforts on Capitol Hill and with VA officials resulted in the opening of the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center on July 4, 1948, now known formally as the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center (CBRC). Recognizing the impact and success of the CBRC, VA has expanded with additional BRCs across the country.

Meanwhile, other smaller programs and organizations of or for the blind started to take notice of what BVA was doing and the successes that the VA blind rehabilitation programs were having. Many began to adopt and expand their own community-based rehabilitation programs for the blind.  
The rest, as they say, is history. 

What began 70 years ago at a meeting of approximately 100 war blinded veterans at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital has turned into a potential constituency of more than 130,000 blinded veterans, 13 inpatient BRCs, 13 outpatient centers, 22 advanced low-vision clinics, the establishment and expansion of the VIST and BROS positions, and numerous legislative victories. The result of these achievements has been the overall expansion of health care delivery and benefits for both service and nonservice-connected blinded veterans.

What many BVA members may not know is the extent of the social impact that BVA has had not only within the whole blind community but the impact the organization and its members have had on society in helping to change the dark-age perception of what it was like to be blind.

If you are interested in this type of history, I would urge you to attend the BVA 70th National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, where you will be able to take a tour of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). At the quite extensive APH museum you will experience the profound impact your organization has had. It is impressive to see the number of BVA members in the Blind Hall of Fame.

A 70-year history is something to be proud of but we are not, by any means, done yet. We’ve retooled, reorganized, and are in the process of building an infrastructure capable of sustaining and expanding existing programs while identifying opportunities and funding for new ones. We are positioning ourselves to retake our place among the leaders within the Veteran Service Organization and blind communities. All of this effort is to extend our reach to lend a hand up rather than a hand out, all the while striving to leave no blinded veteran behind.