Around BVA


Belated Honor in Colorado For Blinded Vet Sol Gins


As has been the case with many World War II veterans who came home at the end of the war, and who largely kept their personal stories to themselves, the courage of blinded veteran Sol Gins has only recently come to light and been recognized.

Sol flew 54 successful B-17 missions over Europe during the War, the largest number known for one airman. Although he doesn’t remember the date or even the country over which he was flying at the time, his “Flying Fortress” was, on one mission, at somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 feet when a bomb that he believes targeted a German military airport failed to leave the aircraft upon getting caught on the wire that was supposed to release it.

The bomb, he said, contained extremely destructive fragments. Stepping into the bomb bay through a walkway as narrow as the width of a shoe without a parachute and only a portable oxygen bottle, Sol cut the wires with a pair of pliers, released the 100-pound bomb, and got it into his arms. Without allowing the bomb to even touch the side of the aircraft on its way out, which would have exploded and likely destroyed all ten crewmen and planes throughout the squadron, Sol dropped the bomb by hand.

For his valor, following efforts by the Forgotten Heroes Campaign and a letter of support from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Sol received a Presidential Citation on Independence Day at the American Legion’s Leyden-Chiles-Wickersham Post 1 in Denver near his home. Present for the ceremony and luncheon on behalf of VA was Pamela Newton, VIST Coordinator with the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. The event also recognized a Vietnam Veteran and a post-Vietnam era veteran.

According to Pam, her team at the Denver VA Medical Center referred Sol to an Honor Flight opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial this past May. He loved the experience, she said, and was one of the veterans asked to speak at a wreath-laying ceremony held at the memorial during the visit.

Sol recounted the heroic events of his memorable mission in a recent article in Intermountain Jewish Times and orally in a Veterans History Project interview in 2005. He has promised to send a video copy of the interview to BVA National Headquarters. Sol’s vision loss is due to both glaucoma and macular degeneration. He is an honorary member of BVA. He has attended a Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation Program at the VA Jewell Clinic in Aurora, Colorado.

Lonnie Bedwell Conquers Still One More River


Just when one would assume that the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon would be enough whitewater to satisfy Lonnie Bedwell’s quest for adventure, he took advantage of the opportunity for another groundbreaking kayaking adventure.

This one took Lonnie down the Zambezi River, the fourth longest river in Africa, flowing through six countries from its source in northwestern Zambia to the Indian Ocean.

At a whitewater festival in West Virginia last September, Lonnie ran into Eric Jackson, considered one of the best kayakers in the world. He told Jackson at the time that he would like to run the Zambezi River someday. Less than three months later Jackson called Lonnie as the latter was skiing to tell him that if he wanted to run the river, now was the time since Jackson and two companions were filming an instructional feature video called Dreamline. They gave Lonnie 12 days to get to Africa.

Lonnie was guided by Jackson and Timmy O’Neill, with whom Lonnie had paddled before in an adaptive sports event. With Steve Fisher filming, the trio used verbal instructions to help Lonnie navigate the most technical features, some of which resulted in some very tense moments.

Lonnie lost his sight in a 1997 hunting accident. He is a member of the Indiana Regional Group and has attended national conventions as part of the Operation Peer Support initiative.

Rocky Mountain Member Greenewald Awarded


William “Bill” Greenewald of Broomfield, Colorado, a member of the Rocky Mountain Regional Group, received the Walter P. Spader Leadership Award. The recognition is for his proven community leadership and energy, passion, sense of humor, and wisdom to make Broomfield a better place.

Bill accepted his award during the Heart of Broomfield Awards and the Broomfield Community Foundation Grants Celebration on April 4 at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield.

A World War II veteran, Bill moved back to the town in 1958, bringing with him his family and a hardware business from Denver. He became actively involved in the community since the early days, serving as Chairman of the Election Commission and participating in the incorporation of the town. He was a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and a member of the Planning and Zoning Board.

He was also president of the early Kiwanis Club, a member of the Broomfield Bank Board, president of the Mountain States Hardware and Implement Dealers Association, and president of the Broomfield Rotary Club. He also served as president of the Broomfield Merchants Association and received the Broomfield Chamber of Commerce “Businessman of the Year” Award in 1989.

Bill retired in 1998. Shortly thereafter he began losing his eyesight until he became legally blind about 12 years ago. He has attended the Southwestern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson and recently spent an additional 17 days there for iPhone training.

Dave Szumowski Retires From Bench in San Diego


A longtime BVA national leader and member of the San Diego Regional Group retired as a Superior Court Judge on June 24 after 18 years as a jurist.

For nearly two decades, Dave, now 70, was one of the most recognized judges in San Diego County, having been seen in countless news reports of local cases, both high-profile and otherwise. For most of his time as a judge, Dave handled felony arraignments at the downtown courthouse, where defendants are advised of the charges filed against them and then must enter a plea.

Dave served on the BVA National Board of Directors for 15 years, first as Director of District 4 from 1980 to 1983 and then as National Secretary, National Vice President, National President, and Immediate Past National President from 1983 until 1990. He returned to the position of District Director in 1990 and continued until 1995.

A San Diego Union Tribune article reporting his retirement noted his reputation for a sharp sense of humor while maintaining fairness. He was also notable in being one of the few blind judges in the country.

Originally from Gloversville, New York, about 50 miles from Albany, Dave lost his sight in 1969 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his tank in Vietnam.

After the military, Dave attended the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center, where he learned Braille, life skills, and how to produce a variety of items using newly acquired carpentry skills with his hands and a few machines. He attended law school at the University of Denver and met his future wife, Janice, in the city. Soon after, he moved to San Diego, where he first worked as a counselor for VA and later Executive Director for Vietnam Veterans Leadership.

Eventually Dave passed the California bar exam, got a small business loan, and opened an office in private practice. At Janice’s encouragement, he applied for a job in the District Attorney’s Office, where he spent the next 12 years working as a prosecutor. In March 1998, he was appointed to the Municipal Court by Governor Pete Wilson and became a Superior Court judge later that year when the courts were consolidated.

New Haven Register Reports Fishing Trip


On June 23, for the tenth consecutive year, Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center (EBRC) trainees staying at the West Haven VA Medical Center participated June 23 in the “Take a Vet Fishing” program at Killam’s Point in Branford, Connecticut.

The day’s events were reported by New Haven Register reporter Sam Norton. The program was started in 2007 by area residents Jeff Buggee and Ray Luhn as part of the First Congregational Church of Branford’s Veterans Outreach Mission.

After seeing other states help veterans through Take a Vet Fishing, Buggee decided to start his own chapter in Connecticut. During its first year, 12 veterans from the EBRC participated in the program. Since then, the numbers are in the hundreds at Killam’s Point with more than 4,600 veterans in all areas having been served.

Blinded veterans interviewed for the article recounted their stories of adjustment to blindness and what it means physically and emotionally to participate in activities such as fishing as a blind person.

U.S. Navy blinded veteran Jim Pedone, for example, told Norton that it was not until he lost his sight to a 30-year battle with diabetes that he began to look at life using a new dimension. Through “Take a Vet Fishing,” Jim is not only able to surround himself with veterans who face the same challenges, but he is able to recall some of his favorite memories of being out on the water.

“Just being here and smelling the ocean is refreshing,” he told Norton.

Gary Traynor, Reuben Highlighted by Fidelco


BVA of Wisconsin Judge Advocate Gary Traynor has been recognized on the Newman’s Own “Foundation website for his professional achievements and service to BVA.

Gary credited much of his success to the assistance of his guide dog, Reuben, who has been with him for more than two years now.

Gary developed cone rod dystrophy while serving in the United States Air Force, resulting in a medical discharge. Instead of letting vision loss slow him down, he has now dedicated much of his life to helping those going through similar situations.

Until just two months ago, he had served as the BVA of Wisconsin Regional Group president for ten consecutive years and simultaneously on the Wisconsin Council of the Blind for nine of those years. He also speaks and volunteers for local civic groups.

While talking with staff from Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation at a BVA national convention, Gary realized that a guide dog was exactly what he needed to help him maintain his active lifestyle. After applying to Fidelco, he was matched with German Shepherd Reuben.

Gary runs a rental business in Wisconsin and does most of the remodeling work himself. He nearly singlehandedly built a new home for himself and his wife, Sharon. In his limited spare time he enjoys fishing and being with his family.

New Heartland Group Convenes in Branson


Left to right, Douglas Olender, David Fox, Heartland Regional Group Secretary-Treasurer Paul Mimms (also National Secretary), and Vice President Howard Adams.

Left to right, Douglas Olender, David Fox, Heartland Regional Group Secretary-Treasurer Paul Mimms (also National Secretary), and Vice President Howard Adams.

The Heartland Regional Group met for the first time April 14-17, selecting one of the country’s most popular tourist locations for its first annual bi-state convention since the merger of the Kansas and Missouri Regional Groups in 2014.

BVA members from both states were in attendance at the Westgate Branson Hotel in the Woods Resort in Branson, Missouri. Director of District 2 David Fox attended as an invited guest.

The meeting was called to order on April 15 by Douglas Olender, group president. After the Colors were presented by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 913, the resort staff and management welcomed the regional group and guests. The six VIST Coordinators attending from VA facilities in the two states were also introduced. Following the opening presentation by Dr. Candice A. Law, Chief of Optometry at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, VIST Coordinators separated for their own training held in conjunction with the BVA meeting.

Other presenters that day were from state blind rehabilitation services provided from both states, independent living centers, and the Missouri Wolffner Talking Book Library. The opening business meeting convened that afternoon.

The next day featured a presentation by BVA Field Service Director Edward Eckroth on the Field Service Program in general and on claims and changing eligibility rules within VA specifically. Gus McClelland, retired VIST Coordinator from the Kansas City VA Medical Center, was presented a plaque in recognition of his years of service. The closing business meeting followed.

Douglas Olender was elected to remain president, Howard Adams to continue as vice president, and Paul Mimms as secretary/treasurer. Mark Wilson was elected as Heartland’s delegate to the national convention and Paul Mimms was elected as an alternate delegate. The delegate was to be sent to the convention uninstructed.

As a final item of business, it was moved, seconded, and approved unanimously to return to Branson for the 2017 annual meeting and convention. The dates for the event are April 20-23.

No Rest for Michaun!


Michaun Harrison prospers at Hearts for Heroes fishing expedition.

Michaun Harrison prospers at Hearts for Heroes fishing expedition.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Group Secretary Michaun Harrison continued her flurry of 2016 sports activities with participation in this year’s Hearts for Heroes Fishing Trip on June 3.

The program, co-sponsored by Armed Services YMCA and Serco, Inc., is a day on the water for war wounded veterans beginning at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center.

If Michaun is as intense in her fishing endeavors as she was at the Winter Sports Clinic back in April, there was an abundance of fish for her to reel in. During the April clinic she gave a full accounting of her daily and nightly activities with photos to the BVA Bulletin editor and Social Media Manager.

James Vale Appointed To New VA Post


Blinded veteran James “Jim” Vale, Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, is now the Supervisory Attorney-Advisor for Veterans and Senior Counsel at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals Court in Washington, DC.

The new position for Jim, effective in June, is one of significance within the VA benefits system.

Jim served as the Director of the Veterans Benefits Program for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) beginning in October 2010. He led a team of five attorneys and a network of more than 500 accredited service representatives in VVA’s mission to aggressively represent veterans for benefits claims and appeals before VA. He also presented written and oral testimony before the U.S. Congress.

He is familiar to many BVA members, leaders, and staff, having worked as an Intern with the Association in 2002 and at the 57th National Convention in San Antonio.

Uplifting Verses


From Warner Murray

CAT PROGRAM


I was in total darkness
not a glimmer of light.
I entered the CAT program
And they restored my sight.

The CAT program was essential
in the development of me,
building my self-confidence,
learning new skills, it was key.

The CAT program teaches you
to think ahead, not behind.
You can accomplish anything
by the power of the mind.

The CAT instructors are great,
they showed me the way
to reach my fullest potential,
I'm a new person today.

OLD VETERAN


I joined the military long ago
at a great time of need.
I served with honor and pride,
march forward was our creed

My comrades and I are here
facing challenges all the time,
some are with low vision
and others are totally blind.

We get together for support
to help each other through
our pain and suffering inside,
many are old and some are new

Our many experiences in life
are more than words can say.
Veterans helping veterans
is truly the American way.