by Joe Parker
On March 28, 1945, a group of 100 young men who had recently lost their sight during World War II, met at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital, near Avon, Connecticut. They discussed forming an organization to assist their fellow veterans in recovery and assimilation back to civilian life.
These young men became the founders of the Blinded Veterans Association, and represented a cross-section of heroes and pioneers who shaped the rich history, philosophy, and knowledge of education and techniques rehabilitating the blind. These same men also provided insight into current and future challenges facing the blind and engaged in continual advocacy efforts to ensure that services for all blinded persons would be specialized for their unique life circumstances.
In 1946, General Omar Bradley, of the Veterans Administration, appointed the Blinded Veterans Association as the first official representative for blinded veterans. In this role, The Blinded Veterans Association assumed responsibility for filing health and disability and appeals on behalf of blinded veterans to the Veterans Administration.
In 1947 the Blinded Veterans Association was incorporated in New York State as a nonprofit association, and then moved to Washington, DC, later that same year.
Throughout the last 73 years, BVA has successfully carried out its important mission and contributed a number of significant accomplishments on behalf of America’s blinded veterans and their families.
This has included working in close partnership with the now Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assure high-quality, comprehensive medical and rehabilitative services/benefits for blinded veterans. A pivotal moment occurred at the end of World War II, when the U.S. Army discontinued its blind rehabilitation services for the war blind and BVA persuaded VA to assume the responsibility for their care and rehabilitation.
In 1958, BVA was chartered by the 58th U.S. Congress to speak and write on behalf of blinded veterans in national legislative affairs. Ever since, BVA officers and staff have worked tirelessly to fulfill the Association’s mission and uphold the ideals expressed in its Congressional charter by monitoring House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee activities and cooperating with other Veterans Service Organizations.
One of BVA’s most notable accomplishments was to call for establishment of a comprehensive residential Blind Rehabilitation Center. The facility would assist blinded veterans in their adjustment to vision loss and the acquisition of adaptive skills. Due in large measure to BVA’s efforts, the first BRC opened on July 4, 1948. As the numbers of war-blinded veterans increased with the onset of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, BVA pressured VA to expand the number of BRCs nationally. As BRC programs grew and evolved, BVA persuaded Congress and VA to expand eligibility for blind rehabilitation services to veterans whose blindness was not the result of their military service, but due to illness or age-related conditions. Literally thousands of blinded veterans have received rehabilitation assistance as a result of this achievement.
During the last 73 years, BVA has taken every opportunity to present the special needs of America’s blinded veterans before policymakers at all levels of government. Therefore, we should be proud of our association, our accomplishments, and look to the future. March 28 is a big day for the Blinded Veterans Association. It is a day to ensure the Nation recognizes the needs and responsibility to care for the needs of those wounded due to their service to their country. Make your voice heard on this day. Talk to your congressman, write to your local newspaper, the louder our voice, the more the needs of our blinded veterans will be met. Please join me on 28 March by celebrating our rich history of “Blinded Veterans Helping Other Blinded Veterans and their Families.”