Of Note


Goobye Chinatown, Hello Alexandria


BVA National Headquarters was originally built as a church. In 1923, major reparations were made to accommodate the International Exchange Bank. The entire time BVA owned the building the bank’s logo was left visible on the floor in the main foyer. Reliable sources contain information that the bank’s president committed suicide in one of the vaults in the basement sometime during the Great Depression.

The three-story BVA Headquarters building itself is stone-faced and was constructed in the classic revivalist style. The front of the structure features four stone columns and an impressive cornice over the front entrance. The interior measured 11,575 square feet.

For a number of years there had been interest in buying a building, but the funds had not been available. BVA purchased the structure in October 1987 after a rather extensive search. The purchase price was $2.5 million. The Association made a down payment of $1 million and mortgaged the remaining sum. Before moving in on Saturday, June 25, 1988, the BVA Board voted to install an elevator, a reception area, and a restroom on the third floor. The Association’s National HQ occupied the building, at 477 H Street NW in the Nation’s Capital, for 30 years.

During the Association’s occupancy the most dramatic changes affecting the area around BVA Headquarters have occurred within the past 10-15 years. The completion and inauguration of what is now the Verizon Center, home of the Washington Wizards basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey franchise, began a major revitalization and redevelopment effort in Chinatown.

A handful of high-rise luxury apartment structures now surround the building, one of which replaced a parking lot previously used by BVA staffers and located directly behind the building. A $200 million project two blocks west on H Street developed 926,250 square feet into a retail, entertainment, and residential area, including a multiplex cinema, restaurants, stores, a health club, a medical clinic, a bowling alley, and a five-floor underground parking garage.

Although the HQ was located in the Chinatown section of downtown Washington, DC, at the corner of 5th and H Streets Northwest, the building was 13 long blocks from the U.S. Capitol in one direction and another long 13 from the White House moving in the other direction; so travel to these points was by the Metro or taxi.

In 1990 BVA received a bequest from an individual named Dolly Green, who had recently passed away. The bequest was in the amount of 4.5 million dollars. The Board voted to pay off the mortgage and place the remainder of the Dolly Green bequest in conservative investments.

Like all old structures, the maintenance and upkeep of BVA National Headquarters had become an expensive and ongoing, never-ending task. The building was an essential part of BVA’s history, and served the Association for a good 30 years. From 2010 to 2013 the National Board discussed with the past executive director Tom Miller how the BVA building was costing more and more each year in maintenance and draining money away from the growing problem with the general fund revenue decreasing and being a heavy detractor to balance the Association’s budget.

Being a 131 year-old “historic building” it was typical of buildings as old. The building had a leaking roof, an almost non -existent heating system, an inefficient costly air conditioning system, and an elevator that broke down about every two months. Also, the elevator only serviced the rear office spaces leaving the front office spaces non-accessible for wheelchairs. The windows did not provide an adequate seal from the outside elements. The staff employees actually used to have to clear ice off the inside of their office windows! With the leaking roof the interior walls seemed to be moist during rainy days.

Not considering the anticipated cost of major repairs the upkeep to the building was costing BVA an extremely burdensome unexpected building maintenance cost each year. With the age of the building the National Board was never able to anticipate which part of the building would be the next debate as to a budget expense item.

The National Board would have huge discussions about all the costs of trying to update various failing systems, plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning.

Anyway, the City would not allow any changes to the outside of the building; no additions, not even new windows without special historic city permits for work on the building. The Real Estate agent came to our March board meetings and from building inspections they estimated huge costs to repair and update the old building. National Board after reviewing many alternatives decided it best and financially necessary to sell the building. It was deemed appropriate and in the best interest of the Association. After all, with renovations BVA would have needed to lease and move into temporary space for approximately two years and without renovations it could potentially become a health hazard to the employees.

During the BVA National convention, in 2014, it was explained to the membership assembled at the convention the reasoning behind and the need to place the Building on the market. With a purchase price in 1987 of 2.5 million dollars and with the growth of the Chinatown area of D.C. it was decided to look for serious bids of 5 million dollars. Several bids were made but none at 5 million dollars. During the BVA 2015 National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the National Board was able to announce that the building had been sold at the sale price of 5.4 million dollars. Of course, less all fees, stamps, realtors, and all other cost associated with the sale of real-estate the full 5.4 million didn’t get bankrolled.

The BVA National Bylaws provide that the National Board may establish a Building Fund for the purpose of constructing or purchasing a building for the Association's National Headquarters. The National Board decided to secure 4 million dollars, from the sale of the Building, a portion of which is intended for the future purchase of a replacement building. One million dollars from the sale was invested in the Association’s investment fund for operating purposes to cover operating deficits until fundraising initiatives can show returns. In review of financials which are available on the Association’s website show contribution revenue over the past seven years to be 2011: 5.1 million; 2012: 4.1 million; 2013: 3.3 million; 2014: 5.3 million; 2015: 3.5 million; then in 2016: 2.2 million and in 2017: 2.6 million. Over the past seven years the Association has shown positive revenue of around 4 million dollars, but during the last two years revenue to expenses has been negative due to the significant reduction in donor contributions. This of course is a constant issue being looked at by the National \Board.

After the sale of the old HQ, a committee was established to search for a new HQ building, and in the meantime BVA had found temporary office space in a building owned and partly occupied by the Fleet Reserve Association. The space rented by the Association is actually less then the expenses BVA was incurring at the old HQ Building. After searching for a building several had been seriously considered, but some failed because of environmental issues, although one was perfect, but while BVA was in the process of having inspections to certify the building integrity another byer came in with an “as-is” bid taking it right out from under the Association. As time progressed it became obvious to the National Board that with contributions being barely enough to cover program service expenses, and meeting the annual budget needs it was decided by the National Board to place the search for another HQ building on hold. It was also noted by the National Board that sharing the building with a helpful and like service veteran organization had many good advantages.

 

Many changes are in the works at HQ. Changes that will hopefully improve the services that BVA offers our blind veteran’s community.

VA Announces Rollout and Application Process for New Veterans ID Card


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that the application process for the national Veterans Identification Card (VIC) is now available for Veterans — yet another action honoring their service.

This has been mandated through legislation since 2015 to honor Veterans, and today’s rollout of the ID card fulfills that overdue promise.

Only those Veterans with honorable service will be able to apply for the ID card, which will provide proof of military service, and may be accepted by retailers in lieu of the standard DD-214 form to obtain promotional discounts and other services where offered to Veterans.

“The new Veterans Identification Card provides a safer and more convenient and efficient way for most Veterans to show proof of service,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin. “With the card, Veterans with honorable service to our nation will no longer need to carry around their paper DD-214s to obtain Veteran discounts and other services.”

The VIC provides a more portable and secure alternative for those who served the minimum obligated time in service, but did not meet the retirement or medical discharge threshold. Veterans who served in the armed forces, including the reserve components, and who have a discharge of honorable or general (under honorable conditions) can request a VIC.

To request a VIC, Veterans must visit vets.gov, click on “Apply for Printed Veteran ID Card” on the bottom left of the page and sign in or create an account.

Veterans who apply for a card should receive it within 60 days and can check delivery status of their cards at vets.gov. A digital version of the VIC will be available online by mid-December.


Blind War Veteran Earns Doctoral Degree

Story and photo Courtesy of Eagle-Tribune

Fifty years ago on Oct. 11, Gerard Boucher's life was forever changed.

That's the day a mortar round exploded and blinded Gerard Boucher, a Marine who was fighting in a Vietnamese jungle.

Fifty years after that fateful day, the decorated war veteran has earned his doctoral degree in sociology from Atlantic International University, which is based in Hawaii.

Boucher, 70, took classes online, using Jaws speech software for the blind. His 109 page doctoral thesis was titled, "Multicultural and Social Justice."

Boucher said it took him more than two years to earn his PhD, which he began studying for several months after his wife Janet died in December of 2014. He said studying became his therapy.

"This was one of the most important and imperative things I thought of, to keep my mind on something else rather the terrible death of my wife, who I had to make the decision of having to take her off of life support after battling COPD for five years. This will never leave my mind."

Before he could begin his studies, he called in a computer technician from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, who updated Boucher's computer and speech software. He says software for the blind can often encounter difficulties reading websites and interacting with other programs that aren't compatible.

"I searched for a university that could accommodate me for obtaining my PhD," he said. "I wanted this degree to better myself and improve my specialty in advocating for the blind, disabled, the elderly and veterans, which I have been doing for more than 40 years."

He found that Atlantic University would accommodate his specific needs, and not require him to take the GRE over again.

The university also accepted homework in Word document format instead of other formats his computer had trouble with.

"The university sent me the work and then I proceeded to study day and night until I received my degree," he said.

Boucher communicated with his instructors by email and by phone, sometimes as often as daily.

"Sometimes it took me three or four weeks to finish an assignment," he said.

There were problems, such as when his computer could not translate certain class assignments.

"I'd explain the problem I was having and they'd make some changes that allowed my computer to better read the documents," he said. "Throughout the process, my biggest supporter was my sister, Janet DiBiaso who encouraged me to never give up and to stick with it."

Boucher earned his master's degree (also online) in rehabilitation counseling in 2001 from Thornwood University in the Netherlands, and his bachelor's degree in social studies from Bradford College in 1980.

Boucher, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, was blinded at age 20 by an exploding mortar round that killed a fellow Marine, while his squad was setting up a night ambush position in Phu Bai.

"The explosion knocked me to the ground and I was so angry and in pain that I reached for my by M60 machine gun to retaliate, but my comrades grabbed me and held me down," he said. "They gave me an anesthetic and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital."

Months later, while recuperating at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston, he was given the bad news that his vision was permanently damaged.

"Regaining my health and my strength overwhelmed any feelings of blindness," he said. "I was glad to be alive."

He received a bronze star as well as three Purple Hearts and other commendations from the military.

For years Boucher, worked out of his home office, managing income properties he owned, while advocating for the blind and all disabled persons.

"Currently I communicate with legislators to advocate for bills related to the disabled, the blind and the elderly," he said. "Sometimes I'm at the state house testifying on a bill."

His affiliations are many and include the Blinded Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 20, and the local Marine Corps League, the American Council for the Blind, and the National Federation for the Blind. Boucher continues to serve as a member of Haverhill's Commission on Disabilities Issues.


Gerard Boucher wearing dark eye glasses, a jacket with service ribbons over the left pocket, in his library, surrounded by books, photos, and a display box of medals. He is proudly holding his framed Doctorate for the camera.

Gerard Boucher wearing dark eye glasses, a jacket with service ribbons over the left pocket, in his library, surrounded by books, photos, and a display box of medals. He is proudly holding his framed Doctorate for the camera.


Boucher grew up on Hilldale Avenue and attended St. Joseph School, then Haverhill Trade School, where he was an honor-roll student in the machine shop program. In 1966, at age 19, and just a few months after graduating trade school, he enlisted in the Marines.

For a number of years there had been interest in buying a building, but the funds had not been available. BVA purchased the structure in October 1987 after a rather extensive search. The purchase price was $2.5 million. The Association made a down payment of $1 million and mortgaged the remaining sum. Before moving in on Saturday, June 25, 1988, the BVA Board voted to install an elevator, a reception area, and a restroom on the third floor. The Association’s National HQ occupied the building, at 477 H Street NW in the Nation’s Capital, for 30 years.

During the Association’s occupancy the most dramatic changes affecting the area around BVA Headquarters have occurred within the past 10-15 years. The completion and inauguration of what is now the Verizon Center, home of the Washington Wizards basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey franchise, began a major revitalization and redevelopment effort in Chinatown.

After his return from overseas duty, he attended Northern Essex Community College part-time starting in 1970, and eventually earned an associate's degree in liberal arts.

A handful of high-rise luxury apartment structures now surround the building, one of which replaced a parking lot previously used by BVA staffers and located directly behind the building. A $200 million project two blocks west on H Street developed 926,250 square feet into a retail, entertainment, and residential area, including a multiplex cinema, restaurants, stores, a health club, a medical clinic, a bowling alley, and a five-floor underground parking garage.

Although the HQ was located in the Chinatown section of downtown Washington, DC, at the corner of 5th and H Streets Northwest, the building was 13 long blocks from the U.S. Capitol in one direction and another long 13 from the White House moving in the other direction; so travel to these points was by the Metro or taxi.

In 1990 BVA received a bequest from an individual named Dolly Green, who had recently passed away. The bequest was in the amount of 4.5 million dollars. The Board voted to pay off the mortgage and place the remainder of the Dolly Green bequest in conservative investments."

Like all old structures, the maintenance and upkeep of BVA National Headquarters had become an expensive and ongoing, never-ending task. The building was an essential part of BVA’s history, and served the Association for a good 30 years. From 2010 to 2013 the National Board discussed with the past executive director Tom Miller how the BVA building was costing more and more each year in maintenance and draining money away from the growing problem with the general fund revenue decreasing and being a heavy detractor to balance the Association’s budget.

Being a 131 year-old “historic building” it was typical of buildings as old. The building had a leaking roof, an almost non -existent heating system, an inefficient costly air conditioning system, and an elevator that broke down about every two months. Also, the elevator only serviced the rear office spaces leaving the front office spaces non-accessible for wheelchairs. The windows did not provide an adequate seal from the outside elements. The staff employees actually used to have to clear ice off the inside of their office windows! With the leaking roof the interior walls seemed to be moist during rainy days.

Not considering the anticipated cost of major repairs the upkeep to the building was costing BVA an extremely burdensome unexpected building maintenance cost each year. With the age of the building the National Board was never able to anticipate which part of the building would be the next debate as to a budget expense item.

The National Board would have huge discussions about all the costs of trying to update various failing systems, plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning.

Anyway, the City would not allow any changes to the outside of the building; no additions, not even new windows without special historic city permits for work on the building. The Real Estate agent came to our March board meetings and from building inspections they estimated huge costs to repair and update the old building. National Board after reviewing many alternatives decided it best and financially necessary to sell the building. It was deemed appropriate and in the best interest of the Association. After all, with renovations BVA would have needed to lease and move into temporary space for approximately two years and without renovations it could potentially become a health hazard to the employees.

During the BVA National convention, in 2014, it was explained to the membership assembled at the convention the reasoning behind and the need to place the Building on the market. With a purchase price in 1987 of 2.5 million dollars and with the growth of the Chinatown area of D.C. it was decided to look for serious bids of 5 million dollars. Several bids were made but none at 5 million dollars. During the BVA 2015 National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the National Board was able to announce that the building had been sold at the sale price of 5.4 million dollars. Of course, less all fees, stamps, realtors, and all other cost associated with the sale of real-estate the full 5.4 million didn’t get bankrolled.

The BVA National Bylaws provide that the National Board may establish a Building Fund for the purpose of constructing or purchasing a building for the Association's National Headquarters. The National Board decided to secure 4 million dollars, from the sale of the Building, a portion of which is intended for the future purchase of a replacement building. One million dollars from the sale was invested in the Association’s investment fund for operating purposes to cover operating deficits until fundraising initiatives can show returns. In review of financials which are available on the Association’s website show contribution revenue over the past seven years to be 2011: 5.1 million; 2012: 4.1 million; 2013: 3.3 million; 2014: 5.3 million; 2015: 3.5 million; then in 2016: 2.2 million and in 2017: 2.6 million. Over the past seven years the Association has shown positive revenue of around 4 million dollars, but during the last two years revenue to expenses has been negative due to the significant reduction in donor contributions. This of course is a constant issue being looked at by the National \Board.

After the sale of the old HQ, a committee was established to search for a new HQ building, and in the meantime BVA had found temporary office space in a building owned and partly occupied by the Fleet Reserve Association. The space rented by the Association is actually less then the expenses BVA was incurring at the old HQ Building. After searching for a building several had been seriously considered, but some failed because of environmental issues, although one was perfect, but while BVA was in the process of having inspections to certify the building integrity another byer came in with an “as-is” bid taking it right out from under the Association. As time progressed it became obvious to the National Board that with contributions being barely enough to cover program service expenses, and meeting the annual budget needs it was decided by the National Board to place the search for another HQ building on hold. It was also noted by the National Board that sharing the building with a helpful and like service veteran organization had many good advantages.

During the Association’s occupancy the most dramatic changes affecting the area around BVA Headquarters have occurred within the past 10-15 years. The completion and inauguration of what is now the Verizon Center, home of the Washington Wizards basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey franchise, began a major revitalization and redevelopment effort in Chinatown.

Many changes are in the works at HQ. Changes that will hopefully improve the services that BVA offers our blind veteran’s community.

Currently BVA’s National HQ is located in the quaint area of (Old town) Alexandria, Virginia; 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314; Phone: 800-669-7079. For now, BVA enjoys not having an old 131 year old building to care for, and a landlord making sure the heat is working during the cold winter days in Alexandria.

Audio Version Of Of Note