American Lake BRC Attains New Heights

Several years ago, a new direction was established for the American Lakes Blind Rehabilitation Center in western Washington State that included the renovation and upgrading of the rehabilitation facilities, improving the programs that would include the needs of today’s blinded veterans and their families, and strengthening the connections that would help meet the needs of blinded veterans in the Pacific Northwest and across the country.

Changes in the directorship and staff occurred and the vision of the new and improved American Lakes BRC was delayed. This vision, however, was not put off indefinitely. Many staff and blinded veterans pushed for these improvements. With the assistance of Rae Hail, former president of the Oregon Columbia Regional Group, the BVA regional groups of the Pacific Northwest purchased a Braille Flag to be located in the new facility. At least three years later, it is still waiting to be installed there.

In 2015, Rae, now serving as BVA Director of District 4, received quick responses from new American Lakes Director Mary Beth Harrison. Joint efforts resulted between the two.

Today, the BRC is in the process of gaining new funding in order to finish the renovation and upgrade. Harrison is re-instituting the family program so that members of blinded veterans’ families will have a better understanding of and be able to support their loved ones upon completion of their BRC experience.

Because of the distance blinded veterans must travel to actively participate in BVA regional groups in the area, additional services for them are essential. Rae recognized this need for some time. He also recognized that changes at American Lakes and a much needed change in the Washington Council of the Blind necessitated a tour of the blind center by the latter and a meeting with Harrison. On April 22, the newly appointed Washington Council President Steve Fiksdal came for that meeting and tour.

“For years, many have talked about this meeting, but it took the right people and a willingness to cooperate and collaborate to get the job done,” said Rae. “Simply put, the Washington Council of the Blind had no idea what services were available to veterans who had become blind and, in many cases, the veterans did not know either.”

With this new collaboration, veterans and their families, and other blind persons and their families, will have the best resources available to everyone. According to Rae, all it takes is for everyone to be able to listen and offer the most appropriate resources to each blind person, veteran or not.

“We, as BVA members and as an organization, should applaud these efforts,” said Rae. “I personally hope that more blinded veterans will be identified and their needs addressed thoroughly by the BRC, BVA, and organizations such as the Washington Council of the Blind.”