Around BVA

White Cane Day

On October 12th, 2017, members of the BVA Mid-Atlantic Group along with BVA headquarters staff, and staff of the DC VA Medical Center held a walk and set up a tabletop display to celebrate White Cane Day, which is traditionally observed on October 15th of each year.

Attendees gathered in the lobby of the Medical Center, each taking up a sign reading, “Stop for pedestrians who are blind. It is the law!” The regional group members and BVA Headquarters staff were joined by the Acting Medical Center Director, Larry Connell. Sign in hand, the Medical Center Director led the way as blind veterans, rehab staff, and volunteers walked around the Medical Center property.

Cover of the White Cane Day Safety Day Program lying on a table.

Cover of the White Cane Day Safety Day Program lying on a table.

Additionally, BVA had National Veterans Service Officers available immediately following the walk to assist their fellow blinded Veterans with any questions regarding VA benefits and claims. A table display was set up in the lobby of the medical center where visitors could learn about BVA, as well as what it means to be a blind or visually impaired veteran.

The Blinded Veterans Association of North Carolina, in conjunction with the local Visual Impairment Support Team (VIST), the Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Service (BROS) and the Recreational Therapy outpatient group, set up an exhibit displaying information about the services available to Blind and Visually Impaired Veterans residing in the greater Raleigh-Durham area.

BVA Medical Center Director Larry Connell stopping traffic as blinded veterans are escorted across the street.

BVA Medical Center Director Larry Connell stopping traffic as blinded veterans are escorted across the street.

The display was set up in the Durham VA medical hospital main entrance. North Carolina Regional Group President Lee Davis and BVA District 3 Director Vernon Richmond were onsite to answer questions about BVA, vision impairment and the significance of the symbolism of the white cane.

Those in attendance had a fun time and learned something also. They enjoyed cupcakes popcorn and drinks. BVA members shared information about the services offered with anyone who was willing to listen.

Two Blind Rehab staff holding up signs promoting awareness of the white cane outside the VA Medical Center.

Two Blind Rehab staff holding up signs promoting awareness of the white cane outside the VA Medical Center.

White Cane Day became a national observance in 1964. The mission of White Cane Day is to educate the world about blindness and how the blind and visually impaired can live and work independently while giving back to their communities, to celebrate the capabilities and accomplishments of blind people in a sighted world and to honor the many contributions made by people who are blind and visually impaired.

BVA Mid-Atlantic Regional Group Members, Blind Rehab Staff, and the Walter E. Reed VA Medical Center Director posing for a group shot after the white cane awareness walk.

BVA Mid-Atlantic Regional Group Members, Blind Rehab Staff, and the Walter E. Reed VA Medical Center Director posing for a group shot after the white cane awareness walk.

Operation Peer Support Leads by Example

BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee is happy to announce the participants for the 2017 Fall Deer Hunt. All of these veterans are blind and we are excited as we have been working with a new scope that will allow more flexibility for the veteran hunt. Heroes New Hope Foundation has organized an all-inclusive deer hunting trip for blinded veterans during the last week of November.

Delegates appointed by their respective regional groups to the BVA 72nd National Convention narrowly defeated a proposed bylaw amendment on August 18 that would have extended the discounted rate into the future. A similar proposed bylaw amendment, passed in August 2016, offered life membership to all blinded veterans at a rate of $20.

This event will host 4 blinded veterans who will receive travel, lodging, license fees, tags, and meals. All attendees will have a professional guide to assist them in all aspects of this event. Participants this year include: Don Bickham member in Florida; Dale Smith of New Mexico, Eric Marts from Minnesota, and Brian Harris attending from Illinois.

Throughout the year, Operation Peer Support works to support our blind and visually impaired veterans to attend various events. At the 72nd National Convention the program hosted its largest convention group yet with 13 blinded veterans new to the organization and convention. OPS also provided $3,000 in financial support to those members affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria which was the contribution that launched the BVA headquarters Hurricane Relief initiative.

British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at White Cane Day

Six blinded American veterans and six British blinded comrades shared rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California, which was the centerpiece of a week of events from Sunday, October 8th through Saturday, October 14th, 2017. The Project Gemini group of veterans also participated in the first international White Cane Day event on Friday, October 13 with local blinded veterans, rehabilitation staff from the blind rehabilitation center, and many of the Long Beach VA Medical Center staff including the director. The director of the Major Charles R Soltes Jr. OD Blind Rehabilitation Center, Mr. Paul Koons, arranged a terrific opening White Cane Day ceremony in the auditorium. The approximately 150 participants included veterans, medical center staff, and other invited guests.

The program included a presentation recognizing the fact that it was on October 13th, 2004, when Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq. This was followed by a moment of silence in honor of his sacrifice for our nation.

The president of Blind Veterans UK also made remarks during which he told those assembled that on March 24 of this year, Project Gemini was recognized in the UK with the “Soldiering on Award for 2017” in the International Category. This award, presented in London, acknowledges the outstanding achievements of those who have served their country. It also recognizes individuals and groups who successfully work together with the Armed Forces international community in the United Kingdom with special programs.

At the conclusion of the program, all of the participants marched throughout the medical center with flags, balloons, and signs commemorating national White Cane Day. Following the thirty-minute walk all the veterans were invited to barbecue, and some afternoon entertainment.

The goal of each Project Gemini exchange that has taken place during the past seven years is similar. We all learn from one another and share our experiences in the areas of blind rehabilitation, adaptive technology, recreational sports, and vision research.

The Project Gemini participants spent five days before the White Cane Event beginning with the golf event on Monday. On Tuesday, they visited the famous Gary Sinise Foundation in LA, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and were hosted for dinner at American Legion Post #43. Wednesday was spent on the water as participants went sailing in Newport Beach with California Inclusive Sailing. Thursday kicked off with a tour of the Maj. Charles R. Soltes Jr. OD VA Blind Rehabilitation Center, followed by an afternoon of blind archery, and a visit to Port Long Beach Police Command Center. Friday sent participants back to the water in the morning before the White Cane Day event as they continued with events at the International Rowing Training Center.

During the Friday morning rowing event, a local television station interviewed Tom Zampieri and one of the Blind Veterans UK members Darren Blanks and discussed the importance of the annual exchanges with Project Gemini. The segment ran on the early evening ABC news affiliate station, and helped raise awareness about BVA programs.

The BVA veterans who took part in this year’s events include; Corporal Steve Baskis, Army First Sergeant Dan Wallace, Sgt. Monaca Gilmore, Navy Petty Officer Scott Scieszinski, Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Donarski, Corporal Nate Harrison, Army Ranger Joe Amerling (Ret) volunteer, all of whom are Gulf War I or Gulf War II era veterans. Maj Thomas Zampieri (Ret.) is a BVA board member. The UK Participants included: Colin Williamson, president of Blind Veterans UK; Army Corporal John Robinson, Lance Corporal Mark Heaume, Trooper Darren Blanks, Corporal Christopher Strudwick, Corporal Kelly Ganfield, BVUK Sports and Recreation Manager Louise Timms.

This year’s Project Gemini exchanges are also recognizing the joint historical significance of the WWI centennial and its impact on the beginnings of war blind rehabilitation programs in America in April 1917.The first Army General Hospital designated as a blind training center opened in November 1917. Known as Evergreen Hospital, and located outside Baltimore, its staff provided training for blinded and visually impaired service members until it closed in 1920. The Red Cross then operated it until 1922.

There are 5,000 men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by penetrating eye injuries, with an estimated 35,000 wounded in the VA system with suspected TBI vision system impairments. The goal of Project Gemini is to develop public awareness throughout the United States and Britain regarding vision loss resulting from trauma, and the recovery process. BVA was organized March 28, 1945. Its motto is “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans.” The organization connects veterans and their families to each other ( Blind Veterans UK was founded in March, 1915 as a non-profit charity whose purpose was to perform rehabilitation training and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. The organization has continued for 102 years, and gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, including those involved in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. http://

BVA Spouses Attend the Military Caregiver Journey, Hosted by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation

On November 13, 2017, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, invited caregivers to participate in a critical conversation to define the military and veteran caregiver journey and the roles each of us play in supporting their journey towards empowerment. BVA and Operation Peer Support sponsored two caregivers to attend the event and share their stories, which also saw former First Lady Laura Bush as the Keynote Speaker.

Lindsey Smith wife of Sergeant First Class (RET) Dale Smith got married on September 10, 2001. Earlier that year, Dale joined the U.S. Army to become an Infantryman. Dale served 3 tours overseas in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In July of 2011, Dale was severely wounded in combat when he was shot in the head by an enemy sniper. Due to his injury, he suffered complete blindness to both eyes, a severe traumatic brain injury, and a stroke. Over the last 6 years, Lindsey has cared for Dale and their three children, Cadence (11), Sage (7), and Dallin (4) as they have worked to regain their life and overcome the challenges of his injury.

Jessica Harrison wife of USMC Corporal Nate Harrison have been married for 15 years. They have 3 boys, Payton (12), Corwin (9) and Truman (5). They live in Kansas City, MO, where Nate is a Police Officer. “In December of 2015, Nate got into a Motorcycle accident that left him with life threatening injuries. Jessica never gave up even though she was told that Nate had less than a 1% chance of survival. Nate was in a coma for 5 weeks but, God gave the family a miracle and he woke up January 14th. She has been his caretaker since the day of his accident were Nate had lost his right leg, had a TBI, and was left blind.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is the preeminent organization empowering, supporting, and honoring our nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers; the spouses, parents, family members, and friends who care for America’s wounded, ill, or injured veterans.

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