Happenings In District 5

by Paul Kaminsky

Who We Are

BVA’s District 5 is located in the southeastern portion of the United States. It consists of four regional groups: Alabama, Emerald Coast, Georgia, and Florida. The Emerald Coast Regional Group is the newest group to form and covers the panhandle of Florida.

Although most of the other five BVA districts have a significantly larger number of regional groups, all six districts have approximately the same number of members.

Within District 5 there are three VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers: the Southeastern BRC in Birmingham, the Augusta BRC, and the West Palm Beach BRC. District 5 also has what we presume to be drawing appeal: Florida with its year-round sunshine and golf, Georgia with its juicy, plump peaches, the Emerald Coast with its crystal clear, emerald-colored waters along sandy white beaches, and Alabama with its “Never Say Never, Roll Tide.” Let us not forget either our southern hospitality.

Left to right (back row) at the holiday festivities of the Atlanta Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group: Chapter Vice President and Treasurer Alonzo Edwards; Georgia Regional Group President Jesse Jones, Jr.; Past National President Dr. Norman Jones, Jr.; and Past Chapter President John Little. Kneeling is Zhana Griffin, granddaughter of blinded veteran Theophus Griffin.

Left to right (back row) at the holiday festivities of the Atlanta Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group: Chapter Vice President and Treasurer Alonzo Edwards; Georgia Regional Group President Jesse Jones, Jr.; Past National President Dr. Norman Jones, Jr.; and Past Chapter President John Little. Kneeling is Zhana Griffin, granddaughter of blinded veteran Theophus Griffin.

Since adjournment of the BVA 71st National Convention, the Florida Regional Group has held membership social luncheons in Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, and most recently in Ocala in January. The latter luncheon hosted approximately 200 blinded veterans, their escorts, and area VA personnel. Two more luncheons, one in Tampa and another in Fort Lauderdale, are scheduled for February and March. In April it’s Orlando again for the Florida State Convention.

Officers of the Emerald Coast Regional Group have been busy building the group’s membership. Activities include participation in blind awareness activities, gathering together for a Thanksgiving holiday feast, and various social activities. At the beginning of December, Emerald Coast held its Christmas Party, inviting the local VIST Coordinator, BROS, and Director of the Biloxi BRC as guests.

Georgia is where the term “southern hospitality” originated and the regional group has remained true to the idea. The Columbus Chapter held its Christmas luncheon on December 3 and the Atlanta Chapter followed suit on December 7 in conjunction with a remembrance of Pearl Harbor.

Local Participation Sorely Needed

Fast approaching are state conventions in which regional groups elect or re-elect officers to carry on the business of their respective groups and elect delegates for representation at the national convention.

Our national organization can certainly encourage BVA members to write letters that affect national legislation or get involved in what we are trying to accomplish on a broad scale. Nevertheless, without local participation or support, the Association is actually weakened at all levels. The term “grassroots” is used to describe the type of involvement we need from our regional groups and the members within them.

We need to be involved. In District 5, as in other districts, the lack of participation has forced regional groups to shut down and/or merge with other groups. It takes a minimum of three officers and five members to organize and maintain a regional group. Most recently, the Alabama Regional Group fell short of that requirement and is currently working through BVA National Headquarters to decide the future for the membership living within the state boundaries.

72nd National Convention Musings

The word is now out in this issue of the Bulletin and other communiques throughout the organization that the next BVA National Convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida!

The hotel selected (Hyatt Regency) sits right on the St. Johns River, which is the only river flowing north in all of the United States. Maybe we can talk BVA into having Rubber Duck races where we drop the ducks into the water downstream and award a prize to the first duck to make it across the finish line!

Whatever events the locals can come up with for us, they will surely reflect friendship and hospitality. District 5 and Jacksonville, Florida look forward to the big event and the first BVA National Convention to be held in the “First Coast City,” home of the mighty Jacksonville Jaguars who won three games this past season! “Up” is the word for next football season. What other way could it go?

New Members Help Keep BVA Strong

Please remember that the temporary low price of $20 for a full Life Membership will end on August 1 just prior to the BVA 72nd National Convention. At that point the previous rates will again be in place.

BVA’s historical achievements as an advocate for blinded veterans cannot be underestimated or exaggerated. Over the years, the organization’s voice has been significant in the funding and multi-faceted progress in the area of VA services for blind, visually impaired, and, more recently, low vision veterans. Our congressional charter, granted in 1958, is a privilege we cannot take for granted as the voice of blinded veterans nationwide before Congress and VA.

Despite the charter, there is still a correlation between BVA’s ability to advocate for veterans and our sheer numbers. This is especially true when it comes to the funding of programs. As our membership decreases, it is only logical that our ability to advocate will also decrease and what we have gained since 1945 will slowly disappear. Therefore, please join BVA and encourage your fellow blinded veterans to do so also. It will allow us to provide a larger and louder voice and thereby keep blind rehabilitation services healthy and strong for future blinded veterans. Surely they will need it just as much as we do today.

Blinded Veteran Stamps of 1981

Recently, I discovered a tidbit of history in the August, September, October 1981 issue of the BVA Bulletin. In that Bulletin was an article about collectible stamps called First Day Covers. The covers are envelopes with canceled stamps and are commemorative issues on a specific subject on a specific date.

Also imprinted on the envelopes are drawings associated with the subject.

The Bulletin article displays three of these First Day Covers. In my collection I have nine First Day Covers issued on August 13, 1981. The reason for their issuance was to commemorate a National Blinded Veterans Recognition Day similar to events that occurred in 2010 and which Ed Eckroth describes in this issue’s From the Field Staff).

A Joint House and Senate Resolution of the 97th Congress, which established the recognition day, later became Public Law 97-32. It was sponsored by then Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY). A Presidential Proclamation by Ronald Reagan was also released by the White House. The text of the Public Law and Presidential Proclamation are both available. If you are interested in receiving a copy, please contact Stuart Nelson by telephone or at snelson@bva.org, at BVA National Headquarters.

Additional Proposals To Recognize VSOs, Vets

Stuart has also informed me of a more recent effort to be recognized on a postage stamp.

In 2001, BVA joined several other VSOs in petitioning the U.S. Postal Service for a commemorative stamp that would recognize the work of those who serve our nation’s veterans. Taking the lead in this endeavor was the Jewish War Veterans. The group was also supported by the VA Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary for VSO Liaison Affairs.

Unfortunately, the request 16 years ago was not accepted by the Postal Service. The reasoning was that the number of similar petitions for commemorative stamps was simply too overwhelming.

In 2012, however, the Purple Heart Medal stamp was issued. Five years later, it continues to honor the sacrifices of the men who serve in the U.S. military who have been wounded or killed in action as a forever stamp in three different formats.

Audio Version Of Happenings in District 5