Around BVA

Randy Durrigan Given Man of the Year Honors

The Standard-Times Newspaper of New Bedford, Massachusetts, has named blinded veteran Randy Durrigan as the town of Fairhaven’s Man of the Year for 2016 for his “courage in the face of adversity and his commitment to helping others.”

The newspaper posted an article by Aimee Chiavaroli regarding the honor in its December 25 edition and updated the story on December 28. The article details Randy’s successful career as a wire inspector and manager of his own electrical business prior to losing his sight in 2004 due to optical nerve damage. It mentions the subsequent depression he faced and the six weeks at the Eastern Rehabilitation Center at West Haven that changed his life forever.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Randy originally believed that VA could not help him since his diagnosis was unrelated to his military service. Not only did he shortly thereafter discover that help, he has also assisted others in doing the same.

“He’s a great volunteer and he’s an inspiration to other blind veterans when he tells his story,” Providence VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator Adele Geringer is quoted as saying in the article. Adele has been with Randy for the duration of his ups and downs and has been a witness to it all.

Randy’s outreach to other veterans with vision loss includes a long stint as president of the Rhode Island/Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Group and seven years of voluntary service to veterans in VA’s Voluntary Service Program. Last April, he received a certificate that cited his then 1,310 volunteer hours.

In 2014, Randy received the Irving Diener Award at the national convention in Reno. He is constantly distributing BVA informational and promotional materials to prospective BVA members and their families at support group meetings, public events, and privately on his own.

New York Vets Join “America’s Parade”

Seven members of BVA’s New York Regional Group joined post-9/11 veterans, as well as police, firefighters, and civilians who served as 9/11 responders, in their participation in New York City’s Veterans Day parade November 11.

It was the tenth consecutive year of the group’s participation in a parade that has roots extending back nearly 100 years. The current parade is produced by the United War Veterans Council, Inc.

Referred to now as America’s Parade for its size and breadth of participation, the event is America’s largest celebration of service.

Standing left to right on the back row behind several Miss Teenage America contestants, Warner Murray (regional group president), Enrique Sanchez pointing white cane high in the air, Rudy Gomez, Ron Siracusa, and Miguel Davis.

Standing left to right on the back row behind several Miss Teenage America contestants, Warner Murray (regional group president), Enrique Sanchez pointing white cane high in the air, Rudy Gomez, Ron Siracusa, and Miguel Davis.

The New York veterans rode on the front of a float entered by Verizon Communications, Inc. They were accompanied by a group of female retired Air Force veterans who sang patriotic musical numbers, some of which were the official marches of the five branches of service.

“As you can imagine, it was a grand day for us as we again had the opportunity to march up Fifth Avenue as we do every year, waving and showing off our banner, which was new and improved this year,” said Enrique Sanchez, the group member most responsible for securing the annual entry. “After the parade we strolled over to Applebee’s for our free meal, which for at least one of us was not the only free meal of the day from the same restaurant chain!”

Joining the veterans in support with a seat on the reviewing stand, located near the 42nd Street Library, was Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Deborah Kraut.

“Deborah must have arrived very early in order to get that spot on the reviewing stand,” said Enrique. “We were thrilled that she could be there with us and for us.”

Also close to the regional group’s entry, and interacting considerably with the veterans, was a group of upcoming Miss Teenage America contestants from New York and nearby states.

The parade carries on the traditions of the New York City Veterans Day Parade, which in turn traces its roots back to earlier parades organized by veterans of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The New York Veterans Day Parade began in 1919 with the signing of the Armistice ending World War I.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Parade experienced a decline in public support due to the controversies of the Vietnam War. In response, a group of Vietnam veterans relaunched the United War Veterans Council to rescue it. In recent years, a new generation of veterans has stepped forward to take stewardship of the parade.

This year’s event had three grand marshals, each a 9/11 responder and a veteran of America’s post-9/11 wars. According to Enrique, the length of the Parade is staggering, illustrated by the fact that the first entries left the beginning point at 26th Street at approximately 11:15 a.m. and the final entries not arriving at the 52nd Street ending until after 3:30 p.m.

“This is one incredible show of respect and honor to all veterans that we are very grateful to be a part of,” said Enrique.

Applications Still Accepted For 2017-18 Scholarships

BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2017-18 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 stipend is for $1,000.

The Miller program, now in its fifth 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 two 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 or service member must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. He/she 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 34 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 accessed and downloaded at, by emailing the request to, or by sending a written request via postal mail to BVA National Headquarters, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 21, 2017. 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. Incomplete applications will not be submitted to the scholarship committee. It is the responsibility of the applicant, not BVA, to ensure a complete application.

Recipients of the Gruber Scholarships for the current academic year are: Arjchara Colonel from Panama City, Florida, attending the University of Florida; Adoria Hughes from Columbus, Georgia, attending Troy University; Cassandra Laughrey from Chandler, Arizona, attending the University of St. Augustine; Patrick Marcinko from Sykesville, Maryland, attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech); Robinson Richardson from Washington, Indiana, attending Purdue University; and Kathryn Thibault from Duluth, Minnesota, attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

The Miller Scholarship recipient for this year is Rachel Bianculli from Charlton, Massachusetts, attending Manhattan College.

Project Gemini a Finalist For “Soldiering On Award”

Blind Veterans UK’s recent annual exchange in the United Kingdom with members of BVA has been shortlisted as a finalist for the 2017 Soldiering On Awards in the International category.

In recognition of the selection, made November 15, 2016 by an independent judges’ panel at the British House of Lords, two representatives from Blind Veterans UK attended the Finalists Reception at the same House of Lords on February 9. Overall winners will be announced on March 24 at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel in London.

The Soldering On Awards provide national recognition for the outstanding achievements of those who have served their country, and of individuals and groups who work together with the Armed Forces community in Great Britain. The objective is to encourage support for the British Armed Forces Community by nationally recognizing the achievements of groups, individuals, and organizations that support this community.

Project Gemini, initiated in May 2011 and named for the transatlantic cable that connects the U.S. and UK, is a joint initiative between BVA and Blind Veterans UK. The initiative seeks to heighten public awareness within the two countries of the issues facing veterans with vision loss as each year a different group of combat blinded veterans from both countries share knowledge, insights, and friendship. The fruits of the program are improvements in services and benefits for veterans and their families from both countries.

In June 2016, four Operation Iraqi Freedom combat-blinded American veterans joined five British veterans and two war-blinded veterans from South Africa. Project Gemini 2017 will be held May 21-28 with a special focus on the 100th anniversary of World War I. On the afternoon of May 24, the American Embassy will sponsor a public education session.

Although plans are not yet final, according to Tom Zampieri, presentations at the Embassy will focus on progress made since World War I in the treatment of wounded veterans, rehabilitation of the blind, and new connections between World War I shell shock, Traumatic Brain Injury, and modern systems of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Davises Attend Boe Arlington Service

National Field Service staff members Wade and Brenda Davis, both of whom now work at BVA National Headquarters, joined Martina Boe and extended family members for the funeral services and interment of World War II blinded veteran George Boe at Arlington National Cemetery on December 12.

Wade and Brenda were good friends of George and Martina through the Greater Houston Regional Group and their simultaneous service at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston the past few years.

Wade and Brenda Davis with Martina Boe at final resting place for blinded veteran, husband, and friend George Boe of the Greater Houston Regional Group.

Wade and Brenda Davis with Martina Boe at final resting place for blinded veteran, husband, and friend George Boe of the Greater Houston Regional Group.

George passed away last June 5 at age 92. A religious memorial service was held June 16 in the VA Medical Center chapel. He was a dedicated volunteer at the Medical Center, accumulating 4,004 volunteer hours over a 12-year period. He served in the Community Living Center as a piano teacher and in the Physical Therapy Department assisting with patient needs. He also helped out in the same aforementioned chapel by providing floral arrangements for many of their services.

George and Martina were also known in BVA circles for their successful entries with two other couples in a local Gumbo cook-off held annually and reported in the Bulletin in recent years.

Al Avina Among Top DC Association Leaders

Al Avina was recognized on December 1 as one of the Washington, DC area’s top Association CEOs at a luncheon sponsored by a group of business professionals known in the Nation’s Capital as Trending 40. The luncheon was attended by BVA Hockey Program Director Bruce Porter, who accepted the award on Al’s behalf.

Al Avina Among Top DC Association Leaders (Trending40Award)

Al Avina Among Top DC Association Leaders--Trending40Award

“It was my honor to accept this award for Al and the Blinded Veterans Association,” said Bruce. “I was able to make some good connections and see that everyone is excited about what we are doing for our veterans.”

Bruce Porter, far right, accepts Trending 40 Award for Al Avina at luncheon recognizing top Washington association leaders.

Bruce Porter, far right, accepts Trending 40 Award for Al Avina at luncheon recognizing top Washington association leaders.

Trending 40 is an editorial and events program that recognizes the top talent in the business, nonprofit, and legal community in Washington, DC. The program is supported by the business community of Greater Washington.

Rare Golf Feat for BVA Board Member

Although an avid golfer, Director of District 5 Paul Kaminsky could not have imagined what would happen next after teeing up a ball January 18 on the 161-yard 13th hole at Eagle Landing Golf Course in Middleburg, Florida.

Using his tailor-made Five Wood Fairway Club, Paul stroked the ball into the wind. As the ball landed on the green, fellow golfers Sam Kilgore, Father Edward Rooney, and Chuck Koller told him that the ball appeared to be right next to the flag stick but that they could not see the bottom of the pole.

“As we approached the green, my ball was not in sight,” said Paul. “We then walked to the hole and saw the yellow ball sitting at the bottom of the cup!”

Paul Kaminsky’s missing golf ball, believed by his playing foursome to have at least reached the putting green, was eventually found sitting in the cup. The discovery confirmed that Paul’s first shot was an ace in the hole.

Paul Kaminsky’s missing golf ball, believed by his playing foursome to have at least reached the putting green, was eventually found sitting in the cup. The discovery confirmed that Paul’s first shot was an ace in the hole.

The ace was Paul’s first ever despite years of playing golf as both a sighted and a legally blind veteran.

Father Rooney is a retired priest from St. Luke’s where Paul attends church. Kilgore and Koller are friends and fellow parishioners.

“These guys take me out golfing at least once a week because they know I love it,” said Paul.

Patron Comments Sought Regarding NLS Technology

Pete Davis, Immediate Past Director of District 3 and Past President of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, is currently a member of the Reading Technology Advisory Group (RTAG) of the Talking Books Program of the National Library Service (NLS).

Members of RTAG represent blind and physically handicapped individuals in providing suggestions to NLS regarding new Braille and audio equipment. He currently seeks comments and input from blinded veterans who may be regular users of the service and who may be able to offer critiques, especially as they relate to the service’s limitations. Positive feedback is also welcome.

Paul Kaminsky, second from left, with friends and hole-in-one witnesses, left to right, Sam Kilgore, Father Edward Rooney, and Chuck Koller.

Paul Kaminsky, second from left, with friends and hole-in-one witnesses, left to right, Sam Kilgore, Father Edward Rooney, and Chuck Koller.

“We want to know what our veterans like and what they don’t like about the service, in this case as it relates to technology,” said Pete.

The responses Pete receives are instrumental in guiding NLS in the implementation of new technologies to be used in the distribution and presentation of library collections in the next few years.

To provide Pete with this feedback, please send an email message to

2016 District Realignment Equalizes Numbers

Section 1a of Article VI of the BVA National Bylaws stipulates that the United States and its possessions shall be divided into six Director Districts, to be known as Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

The territorial boundaries were established at the midwinter Board meeting in 1994 and were to be reviewed every three years by the National Board of Directors on the basis of the number of Members and Associate Members so that each district will be populated with, as nearly as possible and practical, an equal number of both combined.

During its annual meeting held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 21-26, the Board of Directors made the following realignment changes to the six Director Districts. As a result of the changes, the new composition of the six Director Districts is now as follows (number in parenthesis is the number of states/territories/districts comprising each one):

  • District 1—Cape Cod and Islands, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont (10)
  • District 2—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin (13)
  • District 3—Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands (10)
  • District 4—Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (8)
  • District 5—Alabama, Florida, and Georgia (3)
  • District 6—Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming (10)

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