Claudia Belk to Head BVA Office in Houston

Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Field Service Program Director Ed Eckroth has announced the appointment of Claudia Belk, nee Perry, as the organization’s National Field Service Officer for Region 5 based in Houston, Texas. Claudia fills the position left open by Wade Davis, who is relocating to Washington, DC in early 2015. Claudia’s new assignment will take effect on December 22.

Claudia joined the U.S. Air Force in 1995. She served for five and a half years before losing her sight at age 24. She was medically retired as a Staff Sergeant.

Claudia participated in Blind Rehabilitation Training at the residential Department of Veterans Affairs Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West Haven, Connecticut, in 2001 and graduated from the Computer Access Training course the same year. In addition to residential training, she also credits her rehabilitation to Washington, DC Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinator Lillie Kennedy, who led her to employment with BVA. She joined the organization in May 2006 as a Field Service Representative. Since that time she has assisted hundreds of veterans nationwide.

“The job has been humbling to this point and it’s been an honor to serve blind veterans of all eras,” she said. “I look forward to continuing my work, now within the Region 5 service area, with blind veterans’ claims to the entitlements that they have rightfully earned.”

As an accredited National Service Officer, Claudia will cover a region that includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, and Texas.

BVA is the only Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving and representing America’s blind and visually impaired veterans. The organization will mark its 70th anniversary of service on March 28, 2015.

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Wade and Brenda Davis To Assume New Roles in DC

Wade Davis has been selected as the new National Field Service Officer for Region 2 and will add the additional title of National Field Service Training Coordinator to his new roles. He and his assistant, Brenda Davis, will relocate to the National Capital Area.

Wade will devote 40 percent of his time to claims work and 60 percent to the Training Program. He will divide his time between BVA National Headquarters and an already established BVA office in Washington, DC within a VA Regional Office facility.

Wade will continue to help blinded veterans in the VA claims process but now for veterans located in Region 2, which comprises Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia. He will promote BVA programs, most notably its Volunteer Service Program, and will be directly involved in training BVA volunteers and Service Officers nationwide. He will also assist, on a more limited basis, in the development and strengthening of the Association’s regional groups in the mid-Atlantic area and will work cooperatively with VA Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators and Blind Rehabilitation Center personnel.

A native of southern Illinois, Wade enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968. He served in the Army Security Agency and was honorably discharged at the rank of E-5 after serving 3½ years. After his Army service he attended Texas Bible College as a student of theology. He met his wife, Brenda at the college and decided to make Texas his home. He also volunteered as a Sunday School teacher while at the college, an opportunity he says was the first in his lifelong commitment to, through voluntary service, help others improve their lives.

Wade’s strongest commitment is to help blinded and visually impaired veterans learn of and receive the benefits that they have earned, including rehabilitation services. He is determined to help BVA expand and become a well-known organization.

Wade was active in volunteering himself in the National Field Service Region 5 office as an accredited Volunteer National Service Officer. He was then hired there as National Field Service Officer.

Brenda began at BVA as a volunteer, assisting Wade with his duties before being hired as National Service Officer Administrative Assistant for Region 5. She is now accredited with VA in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans’ benefits, having completed the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) training course and the “Training Responsibility Involvement and Preparation of Claims” course. Brenda previously worked in Information Technology as a Senior Purchasing Administrator, purchasing hardware and software for both corporate staff and network infrastructure.

Wade and Brenda have two children and five grandchildren.

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BVA Mourns Passing of Longtime Blinded Veteran Advocate

Barbara Brau Cotton Stocking, an instrumental figure in BVA’s history in a multitude of roles as she served America’s blinded veterans, passed away November 18, 2014.

BVA National Headquarters and the Association’s members and friends nationwide extend their condolences to Dr. George Stocking and the entire Stocking family.

Barbara was a charter member and past national president of the Blinded Veterans Auxiliary (BVAA) and the Florida Regional Group Auxiliary. She initiated and served as chairperson for many years of the program overseeing BVAA scholarships for spouses and children of blinded veterans. She also helped start a similar scholarship program in Florida.

Barbara was born in Freeport, Illinois, and moved to South Miami at age 15. She was gifted in the field of public relations as both a professional as well as a volunteer. She had a particular interest in charitable organizations, working as Public Relations Director for the Miami Heart Association, Dade-Monroe Lung Association, and Miami Multiple Sclerosis Society. She was an officer and board member in Women in Communications, Pilot Club International, the Dade Chapter of the Public Relations Association, Miami Advertising Club, and was a member of the Coco Plum Women’s Club for more than 60 years.

Through Barbara’s public relations experience, she became active in the Dade Employ the Handicapped Committee (DEHC) and Dade Chapter of the Florida Rehabilitation Association (FRA).

While working on DEHC and FRA activities, Barbara met blinded veteran Dr. George Stocking, a Counseling Psychologist at the Miami VA Medical Center who was also serving on the Blinded Veterans Association’s National Board of Directors. They were married and together they remained active in BVA both nationally and locally. Barbara’s experience in public relations further assisted George in working with members of Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs, leading to improved services, benefits, and quality of life for veterans with vision loss.

Barbara was an avid photographer and especially loved traveling with her husband.

She is survived by George, son John Cotton, daughter Cathie Cotton-DeBoer; step daughters Debra Stocking, Diane Neiss, and Donna Cohrs; six grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

In lieu of flowers, the Stocking family has specifically requested that contributions be made to the BVA Florida Regional Group Scholarship program, 3801 Coco Grove Avenue, Miami, FL 33133.

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New BVA National Service Officer Announced

Scott Scieszinski has been appointed the new National Service Officer for the Blinded Veterans Association’s Region 7 Field Service Office based in San Diego, California. Scott officially assumes his duties on November 24.

Scott served in the Navy as an electronics technician from 1990 until 2009. In August 2009 Scott restarted his education with assistance from the Post 9-11 GI Bill. He graduated from the University of Phoenix in September 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.

Upon leaving the Navy and enrolling in higher education, Scott worked independently as a computer technician for more than two years before starting his career with the Air Force as a telecommunications specialist in April 2011.

It was during his tenure with the Air Force that Scott first began his journey into the world of blindness. He was diagnosed with Retinal Cone Dystrophy in the summer of 2011 and became legally blind by April 2013. His vision continued to deteriorate, making it impossible for him to continue his career in electronics. He left his full-time job with the Air Force this past summer.

Scott graduated from the Charles Robert Soltes, Jr. (Long Beach) Blind Rehabilitation Center in December 2013. He credits BVA with guiding him in the securing of VA disability compensation and in becoming service connected for blindness.

Scott has a reputation for thoroughness, attention to detail, and good analytical skills. He enjoys traveling. “I look forward in my new opportunity to meeting, learning from, and laughing with my fellow blinded veterans,” he said.

Scott and Sheryl, his wife of 33 years, live in the wine country of the Temecula Valley with their two dachshunds (German for badger dogs). He is a member of the Southern California Regional Group.

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On Their Day, BVA Celebrates All Veterans

Blinded veterans and their families remembered their fellow veterans from all eras of service and walks of life during regional group activities, ceremonies, parades, receptions, and meal gatherings at homes, businesses, and restaurants throughout the country.

The November 11, 2014 events were frequently highlighted by a moment of silence at the arrival of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month commemorating the signing of the Armistice ending the First World War.

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BVA Director of Government Relations Glenn Minney arrived early to locate BVA wreath outside Memorial Amphitheater prior to Veterans Day ceremony.

In Washington, DC, BVA National President Mark Cornell attended a White House breakfast hosted by Vice President Joe Biden. Two short hours later, at precisely 11 a.m., he witnessed a Vice Presidential wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns in summer-like temperatures that also included Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/U.S. Army Military District of Washington Commanding General Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan.

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Pete Davis, left, and Ed Eckroth maintain perfect stride as they march to front of Memorial Amphitheater with U.S. and BVA flags. At bottom of steps the two separated, Ed to the right with other VSO flag bearers and Pete to the left with the remaining flag bearers carrying the Stars and Stripes.

Mark sat center stage with other Veterans Service Organization National Commanders and National Presidents at the traditional ceremony in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. BVA Director of District 3 Pete Davis and National Field Service Program Director Ed Eckroth carried the American and BVA flags, respectively, down the amphitheater ramp during an awe-inspiring Parade of Colors to open the event.

Speakers at the ceremony included Ron Hope, National President of the Disabled American Veterans. DAV served as this year’s host organization representing the Veterans Day National Committee. Other speakers were newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald and Vice President Joe Biden. The music was provided by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Corps Band.

“Less than one percent of America’s population serves in the military but more than 99 percent of Americans owe that one percent so much more than we could ever repay,” said Biden. “You are not only the heart and soul, but you are the very spine of this nation, and we have an obligation to care for and equip those who we send to war and care for them and their families when they come home—it is the only sacred obligation a government has.”

Flanked by Veterans of Foreign War escorts, BVA contingency consisting of Al Avina, Mark Cornell, David Godber, and Harvey Godber salute Guard of the Tomb of the Unknowns as they present BVA wreath.

Flanked by Veterans of Foreign War escorts, BVA contingency consisting of Al Avina, Mark Cornell, David Godber, and Harvey Godber salute Guard of the Tomb of the Unknowns as they present BVA wreath.

Following the ceremony Mark and Executive Director Al Avina presented the BVA wreath at the same Tomb of the Unknowns. They were joined by two guests of BVA—British blinded veteran Harvey Godber and his son, David. Harvey, a member of Blind Veterans UK, learned about BVA in the United Kingdom through Colin Williamson, one of the key figures behind the overall success of the joint initiative Project Gemini now implemented with a trip to the United Kingdom each spring.

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With BVA wreath presentation complete, blinded veterans make their way off platform occupying historic Tomb of the Unknowns.

Following the wreath presentation, the BVA contingency attended a DAV-hosted reception at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial just outside the main gates of the cemetery.

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Left to right with Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns in background, Al Avina, Glenn Minney, David Godber, Harvey Godber, and Mark Cornell.

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BVA Welcomes New Membership Coordinator

Cecilia Montenegro has joined BVA’s National Headquarters staff as the organization’s Membership Coordinator after more than eight years as the Administrative Assistant to the National Service Officer in the Field Service Department’s Region 2.

“Cecilia’s years of experience in the field service area will make her a valuable resource for new members who need guidance on how the program and its National Service Officers can assist them,” said Ed Eckroth, Field Service Program Director.

Born and raised until age 10 in El Salvador, Cecilia’s parents uprooted the family and immigrated to the United States in December 1994. She graduated from High Point High School in Beltsville, Maryland, in 2002. Desiring to more fully express her artistic and creative side, Cecilia attended the American Beauty Academy in Wheaton, Maryland, after high school and became a licensed cosmetologist.

Cecilia originally began at BVA as a volunteer, assisting Claudia Belk with her duties as a National Service Officer in a VA Regional Office in Washington, DC. Shortly thereafter in 2006, she was hired as Claudia’s assistant, where she continued even after Claudia’s recent transfer. Cecilia first became interested in BVA after a few opportunities to interact with blinded veterans, inspiring her to “give back to those who protect us.”

Cecilia has completed Veteran Service Officer Accreditation and Training Responsibility Involvement and Preparation of Claims (TRIP).

“Throughout these past few years I have had great opportunities to help many blinded veterans with VA benefit claims, resulting in a better way of life for them as they secured the funds that they rightfully earned and as they learned about the adaptive equipment that could aid them,” she said.

Cecilia has two sons, 11-year-old Christopher and 6-year-old Diego. They now reside in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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A Fond Farewell to Alyson Alt

Blinded Veterans Association National Headquarters staff in Washington, DC and dozens of BVA friends throughout the country will soon say their good-byes to longtime Director of Membership Alyson Alt. Her last day with the Association will be November 21.

A potluck lunch provided by the staff will be held that same day in Alyson’s honor at the national headquarters.

“Alyson has been instrumental in the integration process of our new database and we would not have been able make this transition in the same way without her,” said Executive Director Al Avina. “She will be missed and we wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Alyson joined BVA in June 1987 with the title Membership Clerk. At the time, she lived in Washington, DC and made the short commute to the Headquarters office, then located at 1726 M Street NW one year before BVA acquired its present building in the Chinatown neighborhood. She later moved to Wheaton, Maryland, and, as early risers and callers are well aware from her cheerful, early-morning greetings to so many, began arriving at the office somewhere close to 5:40 a.m. daily.

Prior to joining BVA, Alyson worked in membership services with organizations such as the United Seniors Health Cooperative, the Gerontological Society of America, and the National Council on Aging. Alyson was attracted to such organizations because of her interest in gerontology dating back to her social welfare studies at Penn State University.

Although Alyson’s titles changed during her 27+-year tenure, she continued to perform all keyboarding of computer input for new and renewal memberships, changes of address, and general list maintenance. She has generated labels and printouts for regional group and in-house requests such as the BVA Bulletin. She has handled the production and distribution of quarterly statements of annual dues, statistical reports on membership, and upgrading of membership data.

Alyson has ensured that new memberships and renewals are processed immediately, maintaining a billing schedule for both. She has prepared membership status change reports for regional group secretaries and has responded to questions and inputs from members about criteria for membership and the associated policies and procedures.

“I will certainly miss everyone very much and will constantly be thinking of my many BVA friends, co-workers, and other associates,” she said.

In the January-February 1988 issue of the BVA Bulletin, just six months after her hire, Alyson’s sense of responsibility, organizational skills, and attention to detail were mentioned as appreciated contributions to BVA and to the efficient operation of membership services.

“We will all benefit from her efforts and skills,” said then BVA Director of Special Programs Mona Thomas.

Surely Mona’s predictions have come to full fruition over an extraordinary tenure of service. BVA has prospered from Alyson’s dedicated work on behalf of blinded veterans and their families. All who have known her and worked with her will sorely miss her.

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Soltes Memorial Tournament Proves Major Attraction

Attracted by a new 2014 venue and a larger number of sponsors and promotions such as a silent auction, Southern California golf enthusiasts flocked in greater numbers than ever before to the tenth annual Major Charles R. Soltes, Jr. O.D. Memorial Golf Event held October 13.

California native Tom Clarke first organized the tournament in 2005, which includes a round of golf, green and cart fees, lunch, dinner, and beverages.

Left to right at Oak Creek Golf Club, Paul Koons, newly appointed Assistant Director of the Charles R. Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center in Long Beach, and blinded veterans Tim Hornik, Mark Wilson, Mark Cornell, and Dr. Tom Zampieri. Photo courtesy of Barb Webb and Mark Wilson.

Left to right at Oak Creek Golf Club, Paul Koons, newly appointed Assistant Director of the Charles R. Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center in Long Beach, and blinded veterans Tim Hornik, Mark Wilson, Mark Cornell, and Dr. Tom Zampieri. Photo courtesy of Barb Webb and Mark Wilson.

This year’s event registered 134 golfers compared to 75-80 in recent years. In addition to the silent auction as part of the fundraising program, the event featured a first-ever “Helicopter Golf Ball Drop” with a number on each ball. Participants signed up for a particular ball with a $100 pledge. If their assigned ball went into the hole in one drop, they won a prize.

A percentage of the proceeds of the event, held this year at the Oak Creek Golf Club in the City of Irvine, have been generously donated to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives for the fourth consecutive year. Contributions will also benefit a scholarship program of Norwich University, Major Soltes’ alma mater.

The friendly, daylong Columbus Day competition, now in its tenth year overall, honors the Army optometrist who heroically lost his life in Iraq ten years to the day of this year’s tournament. Major Soltes’ vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device on October 13, 2004 as part of the attack on his convoy. At the time, he served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, United States Army. He was the first Army optometrist ever killed in action while on active duty.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Long Beach, California, also bears Major Soltes’ name.

Tom Clarke is a longtime friend of Major Soltes and his wife, Dr. Sally Dang, who also now honors her late husband as a full-time Rehabilitation Counselor at the nearby BRC. Over many years, Clarke’s strong bonds of friendship have also included Sally’s three sons and the couple’s extended families.

“As always, many military colleagues of Major Rob Soltes were there, as were his parents, other family members, college alumni, and dozens of friends who knew him well,” said BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri. “These giving individuals volunteered and participated in the afternoon golf event and special evening awards banquet, the latter of which was sold out with 150 attendees versus some 55 in previous years!”

Also present was BVA National President Mark Cornell, who traveled to Southern California from San Antonio, Texas, and who spent the afternoon at the 17th hole with the specific purpose of thanking each participant for his/her participation and support.

During the course of the day Mark also tried out a recent technological release from the company eSight as a way of demonstrating the potential of research and technology and, at the same time, the costliness to individual veterans if they desire to purchase the products of such technological innovations on their own.

The eSight device Mark wore allowed him to see objects that he had not been able to see in a long time.

Operation Peer Support seeks to help service members and veterans in their recovery process. The initiative focuses on those who have recently experienced vision loss as a result of an injury related to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan (OEF), bringing them and their families together with veterans who experienced blindness in earlier conflicts. Project Gemini is a similar initiative that once a year brings together, in England, legally blind service members and veterans from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Veterans who have previously participated in Operation Peer Support and who were present at the golf tournament were Tim Hornik of Lawrence, Kansas; Mark Wilson of Palmyra, Missouri; and Shianti Lee of Los Angeles. Each spoke at the evening dinner to thank even participants and sponsors. Mark presented Major Soltes’ widow, Dr. Sally Dang, with his own handmade wooden plaque to thank her for her longstanding support of BVA National Conventions, especially the Operation Peer Support activities.

Also present as a full-fledged golf participant and event supporter was two-time Purple Heart recipient Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Dornaski, a Special Forces Army officer injured in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2005. “Ski” spent two years in the Richmond, Virginia Polytrauma Center recovering from the injuries. He is totally blind in one eye and lives with retinal damage to his left eye.

“Ski” is a nationally known golfer who has played against players on the PGA tour. He served eight years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps in addition to his Special Forces Army service. His second Purple Heart resulted from injuries he experienced in the Gulf War in 1991 as a Marine.

“We are so grateful for all of the work that has gone into putting this event together year after year,” said Tom. “It has the support of the entire families of Sally and Major Soltes and now of so many others.”

The 11th annual event will be held at the same location on October 12, 2015. For more information, visit www.soltesmemorial.com or contact Tom Clarke at tjc_clarke@yahoo.com.

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Richmond Dines in Dark, Rocks with Jethro Tull

Special guests and interested members of the Richmond, Virginia, community gathered October 4 for a unique sensory deprivation experience that left them with a better awareness of vision-related injuries affecting veterans.

Sponsored by the Global Campaign against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), an organization founded by Army veteran of 31 years Colonel Bob Morris (Ret.), Dinner in the Dark temporarily deprived guests of all vision in a blacked out world as they simultaneously enjoyed a memorable culinary experience in one of Richmond’s finest dining establishments, Max’s Positive Vibe Café in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center.

Guests of Max’s Positive Vibe Café in Richmond get set to dine without the means to visualize their food and utensils.

Guests of Max’s Positive Vibe Café in Richmond get set to dine without the means to visualize their food and utensils.

Colonel Morris himself, chief organizer of Dinner in the Dark, donated proceeds of the sold-out event to the Blinded Veterans Association. Servers for the evening worked as volunteers without remuneration.

Dinner in the Dark blindfolded participants as they sat down for the first course, which consisted of Butternut Squash Soup with Duck Bacon. The main course was a choice of Roast Bison with Barley Risotto, Sweet Potatoes, and Brussels Sprouts, or Gulf Shrimp and Grits with Barbecue Shrimp, Pimento Cheese Grits, and Crispy Collards. Servers then brought out the finale, a White Chocolate and Pecan Bread Pudding with a Whiskey Hard Sauce and Praline Bacon.

Food and wine for the meal was specially selected for its flavor and aroma to enhance the unique sensory awareness experience.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Brian Pearce of nearby Mechanicsville, Virginia, and a member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, briefly shared his own story and experiences of living without sight. BVA National Sergeant-at-Arms Dan Wallace of Union, Missouri, described necessary adjustments he has made since being injured and losing much of his sight in 2003. Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri represented BVA at the event, publicly thanking Colonel Morris for his months of preparation in organizing it.

“It was a very successful and memorable night for us,” said Tom the following day. “Just a few days before this all happened there were still dozens of unsold tickets but we ended up turning away at least 15 possible participants at the door!”

Guests were challenged to navigate the meal, prepared by master chef Gary Cotton, the way veterans with vision loss similarly do so each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also experienced state of the art night vision equipment and learned how such technology can benefit those with vision impairments.

The following evening legendary progressive rock musician Ian Anderson, best known for decades for his work as Jethro Tull, presented “Ian Anderson and the Best of Jethro Tull Helping the Heroes” to a sold-out National Theater of some 1,100 enthusiastic and often raucous fans.

Lieutenant Governor of the State of Virginia Ralph Northam, MD with legendary Jethro Tull  rock musician Ian Anderson prior to benefit concert October 5.

Lieutenant Governor of the State of Virginia Ralph Northam, MD with legendary Jethro Tull rock musician Ian Anderson prior to benefit concert October 5.

The performance was also organized and sponsored by the Global Campaign Against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). It will benefit, in part, BVA member Steve Baskis, injured as a result of an IED and whose dream it is to continue in his rehabilitation by training to someday make the U.S. National Paralympic Biathlon Ski Team.

Biathlon joins cross country skiing and shooting. A biathlete typically skis a loop and then into a shooting range where five targets must be used in firing. A blind athlete uses a ski guide whose voice he/she must follow. The athlete must also use a special audio rifle, complete with computer module and headphones. He/she puts on the headphones, resets the computer module, raises the rifle, and acquires the target by sound.

Perhaps the climactic event of the evening came during a second intermission when Anderson and Morris presented Steve with the gift of an audio rifle to help him further train for the Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, Korea, in 2018.

In a special presentation during the concert, blinded veteran Steve Baskis accepts audio rifle to assist him in training for Paralympic Games. Looking on are, at left, Colonel Bob Morris and, at right, Ian Anderson. Colonel Morris joked in the presentation about a drawing of a one-legged flute player etched on the base of the rifle, a reference to Anderson’s style of playing the flute while standing on one leg.

In a special presentation during the concert, blinded veteran Steve Baskis accepts audio rifle to assist him in training for Paralympic Games. Looking on are, at left, Colonel Bob Morris and, at right, Ian Anderson. Colonel Morris joked in the presentation about a drawing of a one-legged flute player etched on the base of the rifle, a reference to Anderson’s style of playing the flute while standing on one leg.

Other highlights of the concert included VIP donor receptions both prior and after the show, a rousing, patriotic opening performance by the Virginia Military Institute Commander’s Band, and a meeting of select veterans with Ian Anderson before the show.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph S. Northam, MD was also in attendance and greeted by Ian Anderson himself. Northam’s office is currently finalizing a proclamation by Governor Terry McAuliffe honoring Anderson, The Global Campaign against IEDs, and BVA’s efforts to help wounded veterans. The proclamation will also condemn the use of IEDs and call for greater support to wounded heroes.

Also included in the show was an art exhibit showcasing the paintings of Brian Rock as part of therapy to recover from the visible and invisible wounds of war experienced as both a child in Ireland and as an adult in the United States military after becoming a U.S. citizen. Rock left the Army was an E6 Staff Sergeant.

Ian Anderson shows off wooden plaque of appreciation received from the Blinded Veterans Association. The plaque was crafted and constructed by two-time BVA Operation Peer Support participant Mark Wilson of the Missouri Regional Group (Palmyra, Missouri). At right, Colonel Bob Morris.

Ian Anderson shows off wooden plaque of appreciation received from the Blinded Veterans Association. The plaque was crafted and constructed by two-time BVA Operation Peer Support participant Mark Wilson of the Missouri Regional Group (Palmyra, Missouri). At right, Colonel Bob Morris.

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).

Video links to noteworthy portions of the show and a promotional segment in early October on Virginia This Morning, WTVR-Channel 6 in Richmond, are as follows.

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Exhibits, Special Events Emphasize White Cane Significance

Blinded veterans from regional groups across the country are today joining forces with VA support groups and sister organizations of and for the blind in promoting public awareness of the issues facing the blind and visually impaired.
White Cane Safety Day, always October 15 officially but commemorated throughout the month of October, includes demonstrations and discussions about the significance of the white cane itself, how to assist the legally blind in public places, and how motorists can best demonstrate courtesy to those with vision loss who might be navigating sidewalks or trying to cross the street within crosswalks.

By official proclamation of the President of the United States, White Cane Safety Day has also become known as Blind American Equality Day under President Barack Obama.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 15, 2014, as Blind Americans Equality Day,” stated this year’s proclamation. “I call upon public officials, business and community leaders, educators, librarians, and Americans across the country to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Safety Day proclamation in 1964, asking all citizens to recognize the white cane as a symbol of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his or her own.

The proclamation further declared: “The white cane’s use has promoted courtesy and special consideration for the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more aware of the meaning of the white cane, and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it, the Congress, by joint resolution approved October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.

BVA National Headquarters has sent informational and promotional materials to several of its own regional groups, chapters, and individual members in preparation for specific events on October 15 and beyond, most of which occur at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics with the support of Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators and other Blind Rehabilitation Service staff. In other cases, materials are sent directly to VA staff members or other organizations who offer to promote BVA as part of their own White Cane Safety Day activities.

BVA member Terry Kebbel of the Rio Grande Regional Group has spent the better part of five months with his wife Mary Ellen in preparation of their own participation in a White Cane Day October 15 event at Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The college’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities offered to host the activities organized by the Kebbels, which include information tables with diabetes screening, hearing screening, voting machine demonstrations, and a veterans’ mobile center; a welcome by Las Cruces City Mayor Ken Miyagishima; and recreational activities such as a White Cane walking course, “Dining in the Dark,” blind golf putting, blind goal ball, and interaction with service animals and guide dogs.

On October 13, KTSM News Channel 9 in El Paso, Texas, previewed the event with a four-minute, in-studio news segment featuring Terry and Mary Ellen. Joining them on the segment was BVA member Rick Olson with guide dog Pretzel, both of whom had traveled to the area from Chicago area to support Terry and Mary Ellen. Eddie Bender represented Doña Ana on the show. The segment can be viewed at http://www.ktsm.com/news/white-cane-day-highlights-achievements-blind

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