Flanked by the traditional guided assistance provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, BVA Executive Director Al Avina, National Field Service Director Ed Eckroth, and National Field Service Training Coordinator Wade Davis marched forward in unison toward Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns as they presented the Blinded Veterans Association’s wreath on May 25.
The Memorial Day event joined BVA with dozens of other service organizations with similarly decorated floral wreaths honoring men and women who have defended the United States in uniform and have ultimately given their last full measure of devotion as they gave of their lives in service.
The wreath laying followed the 147th annual Memorial Day Observance at the Cemetery, which for several decades has occurred in the Memorial Amphitheater situated immediately behind the Tomb of the Unknowns. The solemn observance ceremony featured a Memorial Day address by President Barack Obama and remarks by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. Musical selections were provided by the United States Marine Band.
As part of the ceremony, President Obama also laid a wreath at the Tomb prior to his address as dozens from his official party and heads of military and veterans organizations, including Al Avina, looked on.
“So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American service members—men and women—who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan,” he said as he referred to this Memorial Day as the first in 14 years that the United States was not involved in a major ground operation.
Al and Ed Eckroth were also invited guests at a White House breakfast hosted by the President immediately prior to the events at the cemetery.
Memorial Day in the Nation’s Capital fell just five days after BVA’s annual oral testimony before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, hosted this year on the Senate side. Although National President Mark Cornell had remained in town five additional days following the midwinter Board meetings to represent the Association in the originally scheduled hearing March 5, a debilitating snowstorm postponed the hearing for more than 2½ months and Mark was forced to return to his native San Antonio, Texas, unable to deliver the testimony.
Busy with some of his own rehab training at the Biloxi, Mississippi, Blind Rehabilitation Center, Mark was unable to return in May to present the testimony. Director of Government Relations Glenn Minney filled in for him at the witness table on a Washington Day that could easily be labeled as the polar opposite of that of March 5. Not a cloud was visible in the sky as the BVA contingency reached the Senate Office Building. The high temperature for the day was 75 degrees.
Glenn shared his time in a panel format with the leaders of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Non Commissioned Officers Association. He had only five minutes to present BVA’s most important legislative priorities and then take questions from members of the Committee.
“With my limited time before the Committees, we decided to emphasize our Beneficiary Travel bills (H.R. 288 and S. 288), our petition that VA websites become compliant with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the need for VA to begin implementation of the already legislated scholarship program to employ additional blind rehabilitation specialists,” Glenn said following the hearing. “I think it was a productive presentation as we put forth our major concerns as succinctly as possible in the time we had available.”
Other BVA priorities were presented in a document submitted for the Congressional record. They include lack of progress with the Vision Center of Excellence, the need for Information Accessibility Officers to help blinded veterans access Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration documents and websites, research funding in the area of battlefield eye injuries, and general funding for VA Blind Rehabilitation Service programs. Both the written document and a video of the hearing can be accessed at http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/joint-hearing-multivso052013.