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Members of the Blinded Veterans Association across a spectrum that now spans 65 years joined together with their families, the organization’s national staff, vendors, presenters, and other friends for a lightning-quick week of urgent Association business, presentations on technology and aids for the blind, an exhibit hall of more than 45 booths, and visits to historical sites, museums, and special programs.
It all took place August 24-28, 2010 at Arlington, Virginia’s Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel just across the Potomac River from our Nation’s Capital and BVA’s National Headquarters building in the Chinatown District of the city. Several convention attendees made their way to check out the historic building.
The 357 total convention attendees, of which 147 were BVA members, were joined down the hall and throughout hotel guest facilities by a similar gathering of approximately 370 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehabilitation Service officials who were simultaneously attending their own annual conference and using every available opportunity to check out the BVA exhibit hall.
“This convention is still one more BVA milestone that links veterans of today with those of yesteryear,” said BVA Executive Director Tom Miller. “Considering the challenges with which BVA has been faced during those 65 years, its longevity and continued ability to serve blinded veterans become increasingly significant with each passing year.”
Convention festivities also featured the traditional National President’s Reception and the Father Carroll Luncheon, highlighted by guest speaker Raymond Hazan, President of St Dunstan’s, BVA’s sister organization in The United Kingdom. Attendees of both the BVA convention and the VA BRS conference were treated at Wednesday morning’s Opening Business Session to stirring addresses from Assistant Marine Commandant General James Amos and White House Special Assistant for Disability Affairs Kareem Dale.
Loyal Gene Apple of the Regional Group was this year’s recipient of the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement. Dennis O’Connell of the New York Regional Group received the Irving Diener Award for outstanding service to his regional group while Robert Keller, San Diego Regional Group, received the David L. Schnair Award for extraordinary voluntary service.
The Florida Regional Group retained the Golden Gavel Award for the fourth consecutive year. The gavel is presented to the regional group with the greatest increase in number of members for the previous fiscal year. The Silver Gavel Award, measured by the greatest percentage increase in membership, went to the Cape Cod and Islands Regional Group, one of BVA’s two most recently organized groups.
Convention delegates passed three new proposed bylaw amendments. Two other amendments proposed by the Association’s National Board of Directors failed to pass. The convention floor also voted to approve the first 17 proposed resolutions as a block and then approved an additional two, totaling 19. The National President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer will complete the second year of their two-year terms of office by unanimous approval of a vote cast by National Secretary Mark Cornell during the proceedings.
Sam Huhn’s election as Vice President at last year’s convention in Portland, Oregon, left a vacancy in the directorship of District 3. Neil Appleby, Pennsylvania Regional Group, filled the position on an interim basis for one year. Joe Parker of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, was elected July 20, 2010 to fill the position for a full three-year term of office.
The Board also re-appointed Neftali Sanchez, Southern Nevada Regional Group, as BVA National Chaplain and asked Sandra Niccum, Southern Nevada Regional Group, to serve as National Sergeant-at-Arms for the upcoming fiscal year.
As part of BVA’s ongoing Operation Peer Support initiative, the Convention hosted 12 U.S. service members who haf lost their sight in recent combat operations in the Middle East or as a result of health complications. They were accompanied by a spouse and/or other family members. Nine previous Operation Peer Support convention participants returned for a second or third year on their own, among them British blinded service members Ben Shaw and Simon Brown.
The BVA 66th National Convention will occur at The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tentative dates for the gathering are set for August 16-20, 2011. Additional highlights and details of the historic 65th Convention, as well as plans for next year, will be recapped in the soon-to-be released Autumn 2010 BVA Bulletin. The issue will be available on approximately November 1. In addition to its online availability on the BVA website’s Bulletin page, the publication is produced in audio format for BVA members only. Print version and email copies are available upon request of Stuart Nelson, BVA Bulletin editor, email@example.com.
Master Sergeant Jeffrey Mittman (Ret), a BVA Life Member from New Palestine, Indiana, recently shared an abbreviated version of his life story in a detailed interview with Associates for World Action in Rehabilitation and Education (AWARE).
Jeff was wounded by a roadside bomb on July 7, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq. While still recovering from his injuries, Jeff and his wife, Christy, attended the BVA 62nd National Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as participants in the Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative. Jeff will attend this year’s historic BVA 65 National Convention as both a BVA member and as a professional presenter representing National Industries for the Blind (NIB).
Read about Jeff’s long and challenging road through healing and rehabilitation, including a memorable first meeting with BVA Executive Director Tom Miller, to his new life as an inspirational public speaker, master’s student, and national account manager with NIB. Also included in the interview are tributes to the heroism and courage of Jeff’s wife Christy.
The interview and subsequent blogs responding to the interview are located on the website of AWARE, a registered nonprofit public charity founded in 1990 to provide information, resources, and education that can increase independence and enhance the quality of life for individuals with vision loss.
A community-based program within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing readjustment counseling to veterans who have served in combat zones or who have been victims of military sexual trauma or harassment.
VA Vet Centers, as they are called, also provide services to the family members of veterans. The Centers have connections within their respective communities to refer veterans to other services when appropriate. All services are free and without time limitation to the veterans and their families. Veterans are not required to have enrolled in VA in order to access Vet Center services.
The Vet Center program started in 1979 as a place to which Vietnam War Combat Veterans could go and talk with fellow Vietnam War combat veterans about their military experience. The idea of veterans helping veterans still holds true today as 70 percent of the Vet Center staff are veterans and, of that number, more than 70 percent are combat veterans.
Services at the Centers also include individual, group, marriage, family, and bereavement counseling. Assistance with problematic discharges can also be rendered.
Vet Centers’ confidentiality practices differ from those of VA Medical Centers. Vet Centers allow zero access to veterans’ information, including treatment notes, without written consent, unless the circumstances are such that a crisis must be avoided.
To locate a Vet Center, please visit http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/ or contact 877-WARVETS (877-927-8387).
View the VA Vet Center PSA below:
BVA is the subject of two separate television productions to be aired nationally and in regional markets in April and May. The spots were produced by Vision Media’s National Report Series.
The first production is a two-minute commercial slated for national distribution next month. Regional airings will be broadcast approximately 400 times in many of the top 200 designated marketing areas beginning in May.
A longer eight-minute educational public television segment, referred to as a corporate awareness piece, will be sent to National Report Series affiliates in May. Affiliates include several international outlets.
BVA will receive a detailed airing report that highlights the reach and frequency of the distribution as soon as the airing schedule is finalized, which is typically 1-2 weeks prior to the national two-minute airing.
Both of the two spots include information and footage of Field Service Representatives helping fellow blinded veterans. The longer segment details the causes of blindness for today’s veterans, the services available to blinded veterans, and how BVA assists them in accessing such services.
The corporate awareness segment, digitized and encoded for the Internet, can be viewed below.
DVD copies of the corporate awareness segment can be requested by calling Stuart Nelson at BVA National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, Ext. 3316.
Blinded Marine Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch, an Operation Peer Support participant at the 62nd National Convention in Albuquerque, is now a published author. His book, Once A Marine, published by Savas Beatie, is an inspirational memoir of his combat experiences in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The book is a real-life, no-holds-barred account of what it is like to be a U.S. Marine in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Once A Marine also highlights Nick’s injuries and the courage required of his family during his recovery. Nick was struck in the head by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade during a firefight with enemy insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, on April 7, 2004. The grenade was fired from a rooftop into the commander’s hatch of his tank, resulting in numerous shrapnel wounds to his head and neck. Nick was med-evacuated to Germany and subsequently stateside. His right eye was removed and his remaining eye was declared legally blind. His right ear and nose sustained significant damage and an implant was placed in his skull.
“I am excited about the release of Once A Marine and hope it serves to thank the members of BVA who helped me and to give strength and sound counsel to those who come after me,” he said. “Thanks for everything you have done for me and my fellow veterans.”
Nick credits BVA members for helping him obtain the help he needed most in his recovery process.
“After I was wounded, some of the first to assist me were blinded veterans,” Nick said. “Navigating the VA system is tricky, but I’ve always received sound advice from those who have gone through this before me.”
BVA members and friends met Nick Popaditch, his wife, April, and Nick, Jr. at the 62nd National Convention in Albuquerque. Nick came to the convention as part of the Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative.
Leander Schaerlaeckens, a graduate student studying broadcast journalism at The American University in Washington, DC, has produced a documentary that highlights BVA's mission and the organization's past and recent successes. The video focuses on the means by which BVA has helped blinded veterans overcome their challenges and lead productive, successful lives.
The eight-minute, 30-second segment features interviews with BVA Executive Director Tom Miller and World War II blinded veteran Dr. Louis J. Blumen at BVA National Headquarters. Schaerlaeckens also interviewed OIF serviceman Jeffery Mittman at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
A nonprofit organization distinguished by nearly 60 years of service to individuals with print disabilities is expanding its outreach to include a greater number BVA members and other blinded veterans.
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic® (RFB&D®), founded in 1948 to help soldiers blinded in World War II take advantage of the GI Bill to obtain an education and rebuild their lives, has an extensive library of more than 30,000 digitally recorded textbooks.
According to Mark Zustovich, Media Relations Association for RFB&D®, the organization is a lending library that charges only an annual nonprofit membership fee to provide access to the library’s resources. In a visit with Tom Miller, Tom Zampieri, and Steve Matthews at BVA National Headquarters in late November, RFB&D® Vice President of Government Relations Julie Moeller further explained the potential benefits of the services to blinded veterans interested in furthering their education, both formally and informally.
Besides serving students with visual impairments, RFB&D® has clients with learning disabilities or physical disabilities that make reading standard textbooks difficult or impossible. Some 150,000 students from kindergarten through graduate school and beyond are the present beneficiaries. All of the accessible titles are recorded by more than 7,000 volunteers working in 29 RFB&D recording studios nationwide.
“With the ongoing situation in Iraq and in other places around the globe, we feel our services are more relevant and important than ever,” said Zustovich. “Getting the word out to veterans about our audiobooks will help them begin or continue their education and follow other life pursuits with independence, confidence, and success.”
RFB&D® was originally known as simply RFB®. It was founded by New York City philanthropist Anne McDonald in the attic of the Yorkville Branch of the New York Public Library. Several letters from veterans blinded during World War II inspired the idea as they described their frustration at not being able to pursue a college education because college texts were not readily accessible.
For more information about RFB&D® services and membership, go to www.rfbd.org, call Barbara Zustovich at 609-520-8017, or write to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic®, 20 Rozel Road, Princeton, NJ 08540.
George E. Brummell, National Director for the BVA Field Service Program for ten years and a current member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, is the author of a recently released autobiography.
Shades of Darkness recounts George’s early life in a small, segregated farm community on Maryland’s eastern shore, followed by tours of duty in Korea and Vietnam. The book documents George’s quest for education, service, and athletic achievement, the latter of which included a 1,200-mile tandem bicycle ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with World Team Sports in 1999. George is the 2005 recipient of BVA’s most prestigious honor, the Major General Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement.
For more information about Shades of Darkness, go to www.georgebrummell.com. The book can also be secured immediately by sending a check for $20.50, which includes shipping and handling, to Pie Publishing, 2914 Fairland Road, Silver Spring, MD 20904.
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