by Dale Stamper
The Future and BVA
Many years ago, I enjoyed reading a newspaper advice column. One does not have to go too far back in time to remember the popularity of Ann Landers.
A lady wrote asking for Ann’s opinion about a decision to attend college. Since she was 60 years old at the time, the lady soliciting advice questioned the wisdom of such an undertaking. She reasoned that she would be 64 years old when she graduated and wondered if a four-year commitment to get a degree was really wise.
The columnist gave a very shrewd reply, asking how old the lady would be in four years if she didn’t go to college. Of course the answer was that she would still be 64 years old.
There are actually two lessons in this short piece of advice. One is that we cannot stop time. It will pass no matter what we do with it. The other lesson is that we can and should plan for the future, notwithstanding the obstacles or the reasons we may come up with that argue against doing so.
During our recent National Board of Directors meetings at national headquarters, one of those with whom we were meeting asked us where we envisioned BVA in the future. I have been thinking about that question for the past month: Where will we actually be in the next 5, 10, 15, or 25 years? Surely we will soon reach these milestones regardless of how we approach them as an organization. Time has a way of creeping up on us and, for us within the older set, the milestones will come sooner rather than later.
BVA, like many Veterans Service Organizations, is losing membership steadily because of our aging veteran population. As a result, many regional groups are struggling to find leaders to keep the groups functioning and vital. Therefore, we must evaluate where we are and where we will be in the future.
During the first week of April, four BVA members and four members of Blind Veterans UK came together in the Washington, DC area to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of World War I. The exchange was conducted under the auspices of Project Gemini. In a few short days we visited several venues in order to participate in discussions about battlefield injuries, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Blind Veterans UK President Colin Williamson and Dale Stamper touch and reflect on the symbolism of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, situated adjacent to the Memorial Wall. The action portrayed in of the first of the three statues is said to depict faith, the second hope, and the third charity.
The group was also invited by the Arlington, Virginia Veterans of Foreign Wars post for dinner one evening. It was a most interesting experience. Several members of the post, which included Vietnam veterans as well as those much younger, actually prepared the dinner. Adding our group to the mix made it a diverse one, most notably the presence of female veterans from all three groups. We all connected because of the camaraderie that comes from being veterans.
I feel strongly that BVA must begin to appreciate its diversity, becoming more inclusive if we recognize any degree of exclusivity within the organization. We must focus on special interest groups that enjoy outdoor activities, sports and recreation, or indoor activities such as games and crafts. Another group out there includes those interested in pursuing careers or owning their own business. The common thread, however, is that we will always be blinded veterans.
In approximately 27 years, BVA will begin celebrating its hundredth anniversary. Many of us may not be around then. To me, this latter fact is not so important. What is most important is to leave a strong and lasting legacy of service to our nation’s blinded veterans. Therefore, let us make every effort to reach out to veterans of every generation and background.
As a postscript to our memorable week in Washington with our British friends, Tom Zampieri has informed me that Dr. Renata Gomes, the Director of Research and Innovation at Blind Veterans UK who also spent the week with us, has been invited to chair part of the World Health Summit in March 2018 and asked specifically to develop the following main topic: “Setting the Basis for Health Care and Innovation after Armed Conflict.” Tom mentioned to me that Dr. Gomes hopes to ask some of our Project Gemini contacts in both countries to also speak at the summit with a panel discussion at the end with everyone together.
This interesting development comes after the Commander of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center told us that he “welcomed our visit” as he addressed us the day we were there. Add to that the interest of British Embassy Major General Richard Cripwell, who spoke about us with UK Surgeon General Admiral Alisdair Walker with whom the Project Gemini group met in England two weeks later.
Our Project Gemini exchanges are indeed making a difference as we bring to light the vast prevalence and significance of military eye injuries, Traumatic Brain Injury, vision rehabilitation, and vision research.