Milwaukee VIPER Ride to Coincide with Convention
With the support and co-sponsorship of his regional group, John Carter, judge advocate and chairman of the transportation committee of BVA of Wisconsin, is launching plans for a motorcycle “ride to remember” for up to 75 blinded and low-vision veterans on August 21.
The ride, conducted by a recently formed nonprofit organization called Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road, Inc. (VIPER), will originate at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee and take the veterans approximately 50 miles to the Town of East Troy and then back to Milwaukee at no cost.
According to John, retired attorney and motorcycle enthusiast, it was by at least some coincidence that the VIPER ride will begin approximately 60 blocks from preliminary events and registration at the BVA 71st National Convention later that afternoon. He said that he and other organizers selected two potential dates, one of which was August 21. They did so before they knew that the convention would even be held in Milwaukee, let alone that it would also begin on August 21!
Organizer John Carter believes that high interest in the first annual event points to the brightest of futures for the VIPER Ride, highlighted also by the nearby renowned Harley-Davidson Museum. Visitors to the museum during the 71st National Convention will see the first Harley ever produced followed by a priceless display of 450 bikes, including one owned by Elvis Presley. Photo courtesy of Visit Milaukee.
“We would love to have some of our BVA members from other parts of the country arrive in Milwaukee on August 20 or before and join with us for this inaugural ride that we now plan to make an annual event,” he said. “Motorcycle riders describe how being on, or even around, a motorcycle makes them feel free and somehow more alive, which is a sensation that we as blinded veterans do not often experience.”
He said that VIPER was created with hopes of providing an annual opportunity for veterans to experience that same freedom and excitement of the road.
The ride will be provided to the Tailgunners, the term used for a VIPER passenger on a motorcycle, trike, or sidecar rig operated by a fully qualified, licensed, and insured driver called a VIPER Pilot. Some 100-150 volunteers, referred to as the Groundcrew, will be available to provide other services, assistance, and support during the day.
“I anticipate that many of our volunteers will come from our local VA,” said John. “Our VIST Coordinator Leon Haith has both encouraged us and offered help and support to get the word out.”
The entourage will travel on some of the premier biking roads in Southeastern Wisconsin. At the midpoint in East Troy there will be a social and comfort stop at City Hall, courtesy of the Mayor’s Office. Upon returning to Milwaukee all participants, volunteers, and organizers will be treated to an afternoon picnic lunch, live music, and presentation of certificates. With its headquarters in Milwaukee, Harley-Davidson will provide helmets to all riders.
John reiterated that the VIPER ride itself is restricted to military veterans who are blind, visually impaired, or who receive low-vision services at a VA facility. BVA membership is not a requirement.
For more information and application materials, visit www.theviperride.org, or contact John Carter directly at 414-529-0591 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a June 1 deadline for application and confirmation for all Tailgunners and Pilots.
ARVO Will Again Host Blinded Veteran Panel
Eric Marts, Operation Iraqi Freedom Army Master Sergeant (Ret.), will be featured in an interactive panel discussion on “Vision and Traumatic Brain Injury” (TBI) at the annual conference of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) on April 30.
This year’s conference will be held in Seattle, Washington.
Eric is a member of BVA’s Minnesota Regional Group. He hosts a weekly radio show “Heroes of the Heartland” every Saturday morning on 970-AM WDAY out of Fargo, North Dakota.
Serving for nearly 20 years on active duty, Eric was deployed to Iraq during 2005-07 where he sustained ten repeated exposures to Improvised Explosive Devices, mortar attacks, rocket-propelled grenades, and vehicle-borne explosions. The blasts caused repeated TBIs resulting in photophobia, frontal headaches, vertigo, progressive vision loss, and then legal blindness.
The panel discussion is the second of its kind at the ARVO conference. Last year BVA members Glenn Minney, Sean Johnson, and Shianti Lee offered accounts of their vision loss followed by closing comments by retired National Football League running back Terrell Davis, who also suffered head injuries during his professional career, one of which was much publicized because of its occurrence in Super Bowl XXXII.
Eric will be accompanied by another retired professional football player, vision researchers, and neuropathologists who will present the latest findings that illustrate the relationship between TBI and visual function in military veterans and athletes. They will take questions from session attendees, which will include BVA invited guest Major General Nick Caplin (Ret.), Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK. Major General Caplin is a senior and highly distinguished Army officer who commanded the United Kingdom Support Command in Germany and whose relationship with BVA is an outgrowth of Project Gemini.
The ARVO conference is the largest international gathering of eye and vision researchers, attracting more than 11,000 attendees from approximately 75 countries.
Publications Spotlight National Secretary
BVA National Secretary Paul Mimms was the subject of two inspirational articles recently, one through the American Foundation for the Blind’s VisionAware program and the other in the Fall 2015 VetDogs Sentinel.
Both articles highlight Paul’s military service, his personal trials in adjusting to blindness, his discovery of vision rehabilitation programs, his eventual VA career dedicated to veterans with vision loss, and the passion he demonstrates in his work on the BVA National Board of Directors and his contributions to the technology working group.
At left, BVA National Secretary Paul Mimms with guide dog Brook-Lyn and Philip Farris of the Spokane Inland Empire Regional Group during walk-run event at BVA 70th National Convention.
“I have aspects of myself to give to others and that gives me great satisfaction,” he told VisionAware Peer Advisor and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist Mary D’Apice.
Zampieri Attends A First in Houston
Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri represented BVA at the first ever United States Automobile Association (USAA) Military & Veterans Associations & Organizations Networking Luncheon held in Houston December 3.
Although it was the first of its kind, the event has already been labeled an annual one by event organizers Carl Salazar of the Houston Mayor’s Office and Eugene Vecera, president of the Houston Area Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. Some 23 organizations were provided five minutes to speak about their missions, goals, and activities, not just locally but also nationally. Tom had a chance to meet with USAA staff members and inform them about BVA.
“The City of Houston also has a full-time Office of Veterans Affairs headed up by an Air Force veteran,” said Tom. “This is highly unusual but a great and important opportunity, as he said in his opening remarks, to coordinate more among all VSOs and MSOs with respect to city, county, state, and federal services—all with the goal of providing improved services to veterans and caregivers.
Tom said that those present consisted of the usual Congressionally chartered VSOs along with a half dozen or so new OIF/OEF organizations that are located in the city as chapters of national organizations.
Tom Zampieri, shown right of center above with white cane, promoted BVA’s mission and recent activities at gathering of Houston area military and veterans organizations. Photo courtesy of USAA.
“There is an effort among the larger organizations to work with the city to secure space in one large downtown office building in Houston,” said Tom. “This building would house the various VSOs, MSOs, and some of the civic organizations that support veterans or caregivers.”
He added that having representatives from many organizations in one building would foster better services and avoid duplication of services.
“If this eventually happens, it will be a monumental achievement,” said Tom. “Associations with more expertise in an area such as job training programs, for example, would be able to give help in that area and then receive help from another organization that specialized in something else.”
Deadline Approaches for Scholarship Applicants
Completed application forms and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 15, 2016 by students applying for the seven available Kathern F. Gruber and Thomas H. Miller Scholarships for the 2016-17 academic year.
Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee's review, materials arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.
The seven total scholarships include 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 and 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 www.bva.org/scholarships , by emailing the request to email@example.com, or by sending a written request via postal mail to BVA National Headquarters, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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