New VA Secretary Kicks Off Activity-Filled Week in Nevada

Photo of Dr. Zampieri & Dr. Hageman

BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri, left, with Dr. Gregory Hageman, Chief of Ophthalmology and Executive Director of the Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine at the University of Utah. Dr. Hageman addressed blinded veterans and their families on the causes and new treatments for macular degeneration during the convention’s Wednesday forum.

“Let me thank BVA for your long-time support of VA—for your work at our medical centers, at our Blind Rehabilitation Centers, on the Prosthetics Advisory Committee, for your collaboration with VHA on the evolution of VISTA 6, and for your help in preparing our blind rehab professionals to serve you better,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald after just two weeks on the job.

McDonald’s August 19 remarks at the John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno, set the tone and direction for the four days of business meetings, workshops, exhibitions, media interviews, social events, awards presentations, and the luncheon honoring Blinded Veterans Association legend Father Thomas J. Carroll—all of which have become significant components of BVA annual conventions over a nearly seven-decade span of history.

Photo of Bill Wedekind

BVA member Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the annual Father Thomas Carroll Memorial Luncheon August 20.

Photo of Edna Dixon

BVA Auxiliary Vice President Edna Dixon holds up hand-made pillow she designed and sewed for this year’s BVA Auxiliary Silent Auction.

“Your devotion to veterans isn’t lost on me, and I want to assure you that your contributions to VA reform discussions have been of great help to me,” McDonald continued.

Additional details and photos and highlights of the BVA 69th National Convention, those front and center as well as behind the scenes, will be available shortly. Check back periodically for in-depth reports and comments from convention attendees!

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BVA HOSTS RECENTLY BLINDED SERVICE MEMBERS, VETERANS IN RENO

Fourteen U.S. combat-blinded service members injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Operation Desert Storm joined seven British legally blind veterans at the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) 69th National Convention at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, August 18-21. The hotel is located just outside the City of Reno.

The group spent time together in recreational activities, educational seminars, and social settings. The U.S. attendees spent Sunday, August 17, on a kayaking excursion on Lake Tahoe.

Aaron Hale of Florida and Shianti Lee of Southern California prepare for kayak launch during Operation Peer Support activity August 17.

Aaron Hale of Florida and Shianti Lee of Southern California prepare for kayak launch during Operation Peer Support activity August 17.

Participants were honored as guests of BVA at its convention. The gathering of the veterans who have more recently lost their sight is made possible through an organizational program known as “Operation Peer Support.” The initiative began in early 2006 when generous corporations and individuals provided financial support to bring a small group of recently wounded personnel to BVA’s 61st convention in Buffalo, New York.

The program has continued at subsequent meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Washington, DC; Las Vegas, Nevada; Galveston, Texas; and Spokane, Washington. At the top of this year’s list of supporters are Genentech, the Allergan Foundation, American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Optometric Association, and Eschenbach Optik of America.

According to BVA National Officer Dr. Tom Zampieri, Director of District 6, the chief aim of Operation Peer Support is for recently blinded veterans to meet and gain strength from many of BVA’s longtime members, the annual convention serving as a means by which such exchange and mentoring begin to occur.

Extreme sports enthusiasts Lonnie Bedwell, left, and Steve Baskis reunite during BVA 69th National Convention Operation Peer Support opening activities.

Extreme sports enthusiasts Lonnie Bedwell, left, and Steve Baskis reunite during BVA 69th National Convention Operation Peer Support opening activities.

“Our desire is that strong relationships might be established between the members of BVA blinded in previous conflicts and those who have recently had a similar experience,” he said. “Physical and emotional isolation is a huge issue for those who have recently lost their sight, and perhaps only those who have gone through the experience themselves can truly understand the great challenges they are facing.”

The British contingent includes four recently blinded Army veterans and a recreational therapy instructor from Blind Veterans UK, BVA’s sister organization in the United Kingdom. The five were participating in a BVA convention for the first time with two other British veterans who have lost their sight and attended the convention in previous years.

All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help other blinded veterans understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government, at the same time openly encouraging its constituents to participate in Department of Veterans Affairs’ blind rehabilitation programs.

For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit the organization’s website, www.bva.org.

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BLINDED VET ADDRESSES OVERCOMING ADVERSITY AT LUNCHEON

Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) 69th National Convention’s Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon on Wednesday, August 20, at 12:30 p.m. Wedekind delivered his speech in Rose Ballroom B at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada.

A life member of BVA and current resident of San Antonio, Texas, Wedekind was born in Manhattan, Kansas, as the first of five brothers. He was inspired to follow the family tradition and join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967, expecting it to be a lifelong career path. On May 25, 1968, his life permanently changed course when he was sent to inspect a defensive perimeter while serving in Vietnam. Never arriving at a certainty or remembrance as to what happened next, Wedekind nevertheless lost both eyes, one ear, and both hands in the explosion.

Wedekind’s grandmother, Myrtle Fichon, suggested pottery as a possible career for him and introduced him to the basics of the craft before he studied under accomplished potters at Kansas State University. He later received an advanced degree license as a ham radio operator and took up the building of race cars as a hobby. He also fearlessly uses power tools whenever he needs to build another shelf to hold his pottery. Wedekind is a skilled computer programmer. He has given pottery demonstrations and motivational speeches to a wide array of groups, including students of all ages, a minister’s group, inmates at correctional facilities, and potters at numerous shows, guilds, and seminars.

In 1976, the Disabled American Veterans honored Wedekind as the Arkansas Disabled Vet of the Year. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Combat V in 1968.

Wedekind’s address was one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which occured August 18-21. Some 150 blinded veterans and an additional 250 families, exhibitors, presenters, and friends of BVA participated in the four-day gathering. The Father Carroll Luncheon event itself is named for Thomas J. Carroll, one of the blind rehabilitation field’s foremost pioneers of the 20th century and BVA’s National Chaplain from 1946 to 1971.

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RENO MEETINGS TO HOST EXPERTS IN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, VISION RESEARCH, AND REHABILITATION

Leading authorities in the areas of leadership skills development, blind rehabilitation, and vision research affecting the blind and visually impaired, especially those who have served in the United States military, will speak in a forum setting on Wednesday, August 21, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort.

The forum, which runs from 8:00 a.m. until Noon in Pavilions C, D, and E, is one of several educational components of the Blinded Veterans Association’s 69th National Convention. The August 18-21 gathering features organizational business meetings, social events, and an Exhibit Hall open to the public.

Presenters at the Forum include Captain Donald Crandell and Lee Ruff of Toastmasters, International; Dr. Sally Dang, full-time optometrist with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Long Beach Health Care System in its low vision/blind rehabilitation clinical program at the Major Charles Robert Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center; Gale Watson, VA National Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service; and Dr. Gregory Hageman, Chief of Ophthalmology and Executive Director of the Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine at the University of Utah.

BVA’s membership of approximately 11,500 includes blinded veterans from the state of Nevada, seven of whom will attend the convention. Four of the attendees are from the Reno-Sparks area. All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help one another understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government and encourages all blinded veterans to participate in VA blind rehab programs.

BVA was established in March of 1945 when a small but close-knit group of World War II blinded veterans gathered together in Avon, Connecticut. The founders hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and to regain their confidence and independence. This dedication has continued for 69 years.

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TOP VA OFFICIAL TO ADDRESS BLINDED VETERANS IN RENO

Newly appointed and confirmed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald will address the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) 69th National Convention as the keynote speaker at the organization’s Opening Business Session on August 19 at 8:30 a.m. The speech will occur in Rose Ballroom B at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada. Brief remarks by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini will follow.

Secretary McDonald was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs and was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2014.

Prior to joining VA, Secretary McDonald was Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company. Under his leadership, Proctor & Gamble added nearly one billion people to its global customer base and grew the organic sales by an average of 3 percent per year. During his tenure, Procter & Gamble was widely recognized for its leader development prowess. In 2012, Chief Executive Magazine named it the best company for developing leader talent. He is personally committed to values-based leadership that leads to improving the lives of others.

An Army veteran, Secretary McDonald served with the 82nd Airborne Division, completing Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training. He earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wing. Upon leaving military service as a Captain, he received the Meritorious Service Medal. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the top 2 percent of the Class of 1975. He also served there as the Brigade Adjutant for the Corps of Cadets. He earned an MBA from the University of Utah in 1978.

Secretary McDonald’s address will be one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which runs August 18-21. Approximately 150 blinded veterans and an additional 200 family members, exhibitors, presenters and friends of the Association participate in the annual gathering

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HIGH-TECH VISUAL AIDS EXHIBIT HIGHLIGHTS CONVENTION OF BLINDED VETERANS

Innovative instruments such as audible currency readers, talking computers, barcode scanners, bioptic telescopes used as eyeglasses, video magnifiers, hand-held libraries of audible information, mobility aids for independent living, audible health monitoring devices such as medical alarms and two-way emergency communicators, and portable Global Positioning Systems will all take center stage at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada August 18-19.

The setting, a high-tech exhibition featuring adaptive devices and information about a wide variety of products that can enhance the quality of life for both the totally blind and visually impaired, is one of the most anticipated features of the 69th National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), which occurs August 18-21.

Advances in technology continue to offer the blind and visually impaired opportunities to enjoy a higher quality of life, helping them live and work independently in increasingly innovative ways. During the exhibit sessions, BVA members, vision rehabilitation professionals from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the general public will have opportunities to see, feel, and test the new equipment. Representatives from the various industries, which also include several companies offering guide dog services, will field questions and provide detailed demonstrations.

Hours of the exhibit hall will be 10:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. both days. The public is invited and encouraged to attend with no admission charge. Additional information about the Association and its services to blinded veterans is available at www.bva.org.

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BLINDED VETERANS TO GATHER AT RENO CONVENTION

Blinded veterans from across the country will come together August 18-21 at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, for the 69th National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA). The Association is a Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving the needs of America’s blind and visually impaired veterans and their families.

Delegates and other convention attendees, among them 14 U.S. and seven British service members or veterans who have recently experienced vision loss, will set BVA’s course for its upcoming fiscal year, participate in a variety of information sessions, reunite with old friends, and take part in special events, including a grand finale Awards Banquet on August 21.

Convention attendees will also hear from newly appointed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini in the convention’s Opening Business Session on August 19. They will be favored by remarks from Bill Wedekind, the only known blind, bilateral double-amputee potter in the world and a life member of BVA, at the August 20 Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon. Wedekind was wounded in Vietnam in 1968.

BVA’s membership of approximately 11,500 includes blinded veterans from the state of Nevada, seven of whom will attend the convention. Four of the attendees are from the Reno-Sparks area. All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help one another understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government and encourages all blinded veterans to participate in VA blind rehabilitation programs.

BVA was established in March of 1945 when a small but close-knit group of World War II blinded veterans gathered together in Avon, Connecticut. The founders hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and to regain their confidence and independence. This dedication has continued for 69 years. Eligibility for assistance does not require that a veteran’s blindness be service connected. There is no charge for any BVA service. For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit the organization’s website, www.bva.org.

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October Jethro Tull Concert, Unique Dinner To Support Disabled Veterans and First Responders

Legendary progressive rock musician Ian Anderson, best known for decades for his work as Jethro Tull, will present “Ian Anderson and the Best of Jethro Tull Helping the Heroes” at the National Theater in Richmond, Virginia on October 5.

The 7:30 p.m. performance has been organized by the Global Campaign Against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), also a chief sponsor. The concert will, in part, benefit Operation Peer Support, an initiative of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) that connects veterans who have lost their vision during the World War II, Korea, and Vietnam eras with the newly blinded who have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan as a result of IEDS, sniper fire, mortar- or rocket-propelled grenades, or combinations of other firearms.

Highlights of the event include VIP donor receptions both prior and after the show, a special one-hour opening performance by the Virginia Military Institute Commander’s Band, and a meeting of select veterans with Ian Anderson before the show with their attendance as special guests.

Also included will be a veteran art exhibit in the National Theater and Marriott Hotel lobby that showcases art created by veterans as part of therapy to recover from the visible and invisible wounds of war.

The Global Campaign Against IEDs will also sponsor “Dinner in the Dark” the evening before the concert (October 4) at Max’s Positive Vibe Café in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center in Richmond (2825 Hathaway Road). During the meal, participants will be deprived of all vision and immersed in a blacked out world that will provide them with impressions of what it is like to be one of America’s some 143,000 legally blind veterans. Food and wine has been specially selected for its flavor and aroma to enhance the unique sensory awareness experience. The dinner’s main course, for example, features gulf shrimp and grits with barbecued shrimp, pimento cheese grits, and crispy collards.

“The funding goal for the concert and related events is $115,000 with a ‘stretch goal’ to fund key projects supporting veterans and first responders of an additional $60,000,” said Colonel Bob Morris (Ret), a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Army and founder of the Global Campaign Against IEDs.

The total funding goal of $175,000 will cover all event costs and provide resources for three key programs: training and equipment to help a member of BVA who was injured by an IED in Iraq achieve his Olympic dream and compete in the 2018 Korean Paralympic Biathlon; training, certifications, and job placement for up to 10 veterans in Virginia; and a campaign to increase the safety of children and their schools through a program to reduce school violence and the threat of IEDs therein.

More than 85 percent of all service member injuries and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted from IEDs. No other single weapon in U.S. military history has been the cause of more injuries and deaths. IEDs are the cause of the four major injuries to veterans and active-duty military. These injuries are vision loss, hearing loss, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Traumatic Brain Injury (now also linked to vision loss and blindness).

Tickets for the concert are on sale to the general public at http://www.thenationalva.com/events/detail/ian-anderson-and-the-best-of-jethro-tull. For additional information about “Dining in the Dark” or to purchase tickets online, visit www.CampaignAgainstIEDs.org/Tull.

BVA is the only Congressional chartered Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving America’s legally blind veterans. The organization was founded in 1945 by war-blinded veterans returning from World War II.

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Blinded Veterans Extend Best Wishes to Senator Hagan Following Eye Surgery

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) wishes Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) a complete and speedy recovery from the emergency eye surgery she underwent on August 1.

“As a blinded veteran myself, I understand completely the struggles involved in post-operative eye surgery and, in my case, legal blindness,” wrote BVA Director of Government Relations Glenn Minney in a brief letter to Senator Hagan on behalf of the Association’s leadership, its approximately 11,200 members, and the blinded veteran community at large.

According to Hagan spokeswoman Amber Moon, the Senator had been bothered by the condition leading to the surgery for some time but put off treatment in order to keep working. The condition then worsened. The precise problem Senator Hagan had with her eye has not been specified.

Moon said Senator Hagan is recuperating and expects to be back on her regular schedule in a few days.

Since 1945, the Blinded Veterans Association has assisted blinded veterans and their families in adjusting to life without sight and in regaining confidence and independence. Chartered by the U.S. Congress, the organization was originally founded in Avon, Connecticut, by combat blinded veterans of World War II. It is the only Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving the nation’s blinded veterans and .their families, representing them before Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, visit www.bva.org.

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BEP To Unveil Currency Reader Program at BVA National Convention

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) has learned that The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) will soon distribute currency reader devices at no cost to eligible blind or visually impaired U.S. veterans, the first phase of which will kick off during the first two days of the Association’s 69th National Convention in Sparks, Nevada.

The convention in its entirety is scheduled for August 18-21 at the John Asuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort.

Distribution of the readers to blinded veterans is an important component in BEP’s overall initiative to provide meaningful access to Federal Reserve notes (U.S. currency) for the blind and visually impaired. According to Dawn R. Haley, Senior Advisor to the BEP Director, the BVA convention and other similar gatherings present opportunities to demonstrate the features and benefits of the readers.

“The BEP has participated at the summer conventions for a number of years now,” Haley said. “We are excited to introduce our currency reader program plans here at this venue and to provide currency readers to interested conference participants here and at the other conventions as well.”

Following the exhibition of the currency reader devices at the BVA convention, the BEP will follow a two-stage roll-out to make the devices available to the general public. Convention attendees will get an early look at the readers at the BEP booth in the Convention Exhibit Hall, which is open to the public August 18-19.

In 2011, the BEP introduced EyeNote®, an app that scans and identifies note images on mobile devices operating on the Apple iOS Platform. EyeNote® was exhibited at BVA’s convention that year. A similar app for Android phones, the IDEAL Currency Reader ®, was developed through collaboration with the Department of Education.

Individuals interested in applying for a currency reader device or learning more about BEP’s meaningful access program should visit www.bep.gov.

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