BVA Staffer Attends VA Council of American Federation of Government Employees

Yesterday BVA Assistant Legislative Director Michael O’Rourke attended a semi-annual meeting and lunch event of the VA Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which consisted of representatives of various Veterans Service Organizations and two AFGE officials. The latter were: Mike Rosenblatt, Lobbyist/Grassroots Mobilization Coordinator of the National Veterans Affairs Council and Legislative Representative Marilyn Parks. They are pictured with Mike in the attached.

Mike O'Rourke and AFGE Officials

Mike O’Rourke and AFGE Officials

During the meeting Mike asked the two AFGE officials to address BVA concerns about VA staffing issues with the following in mind: As many as 1.5 million Veterans have levels of low vision that impair their ability to perform everyday tasks. In older veterans, major causes of vision loss include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, stroke, and diabetic retinopathy. Some 285,000 have glaucoma. Among veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, blast-related brain injuries can be followed by vision problems such as blurred vision, double vision, sensitivity to light, and difficulty reading. Although there are 13 VA residential Blind Rehabilitation Centers throughout the country, such centers are often not filled to capacity due to staffing deficiencies.

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Blinded Veterans Association and Blind Veterans UK Attending Major Charles R. Soltes, Jr. O.D. Golf Memorial Event on October 12, 2015

An international group of blinded veterans will attend the Major Soltes Memorial Golf Event, taking place in Irvine, California next month. Proceeds from the event will support BVA’s free programs for blinded veterans and their families. Those who wish to support the event, held annually in memory of Army optometrist Maj. Rob Soltes, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, can find more information on the event’s webpage.

Veterans Representing BVA

The Reverend Robert “Dale” Stamper is a native of Turlock, California. After graduating from Atwater High School, he enlisted in the Army at age 18 and underwent basic training at Ford Ord in Monterey. He also completed three months of advanced training in engineering at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Dale went to Vietnam in the spring of 1967. On January 6, 1968, he was part of a unit assigned to replace a bridge that had been destroyed. As he scouted the area, he tripped a landmine. The explosion knocked out Dale’s right eye immediately. A small piece of shrapnel severely infected his left eye, which later had to be removed. Although the MASH unit to which he was transported saved his life, his whole body had been affected. Several broken bones and multiple surgeries were the result.

Dale’s military honors include the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device 1960, and Marksman (Rifle M-14). Following his recovery, he completed VA Vocational Rehabilitation and one year at San Jose University. He transferred to Fresno State University, where he began a degree in psychology, and then to the Evangelical Christian College in Fresno, where he earned a B.A. in Theology with an emphasis on counseling. Dale is presently heading a ministry to Veterans with PTSD through Real Life Ministries. His advice and counsel is often sought out by his peers in the ministry. He is also regional group secretary for the Spokane Inland Empire RG and has served on the national board of the BVA as the district director for district four until he was voted in as national secretary, then served two years as national vice president and was elected president BVA August 21, 2015. He is also active in other Veterans service organization and has been the Chaplain for DAV Fort Sherman chapter nine and chapter commander.

First Sergeant (Ret.) Daniel L. Wallace enlisted in the Army as an infantryman. He attended one-stop training that included basic airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985. Daniel’s assignments included tours with the 2-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Fort Bragg, North Carolina; the 1-508th Infantry in Fort Kobbe, Panama; the 5th Ranger Training Battalion of Dahlonega, Georgia; the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; the 1-502th Infantry at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; an ROTC Instructor at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana; and the 1-187th Infantry at Fort Campbell. Daniel deployed twice to the Sinai (Multinational Force and Observers Duty), twice to Honduras, and once to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has served as a Rifleman, Radio Transmitter Operator, Team Leader, Squad Leader, Ranger Instructor, Platoon Sergeant, Company Executive Officer, and Company First Sergeant. Daniel was wounded by a suicide car bomb attack in Tel Al Far, Iraq, on December 9, 2003. After multiple surgeries he retired in December 2005 with more than 20 years of service. He currently volunteers as a peer mentor for fellow veterans and lives in Union, Missouri. Daniel is the current Chairman of the BVA Operation Peer Support Committee serves as the BVA National Sergeant-At-Arms.

Specialist Steven Christopher Baskis (Ret.) served in the U.S. Army from January 2007 until June 2010, when he was medically retired. He served in Baghdad, Iraq from November 2007 until May 2008 with the 4th Infantry Division, D-Company Support Training Battalion Command Personal Security Detachment.

Steve had wanted to serve in the military as his father, grandfather, and many other family members had done. He enlisted in January 2007 starting as an infantryman and eventually becoming a Green Beret. He graduated with honors from Fort Benning Infantry Training Battalion and earned a meritorious promotion. He was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. By the end of 2007, Steve and his platoon were in Iraq and tasked to protect a General as special security detail.  Only eight months into his deployment, on May 13, 2008, everything changed for Steve. His squad was attacked while on combat patrol and a sophisticated roadside bomb sent an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) projectile through his thickly armored vehicle, killing his friend and severely wounding him. There were multiple orthopedic injuries, facial fractures, Traumatic Brain Injury, and penetrating eye injuries.  A week later, he woke up in Walter Reed Medical Hospital, having had several emergency surgery procedures and where ophthalmologist told him he was blind because of orbital blast injuries with optic nerve damage.

After attending the Hines VA Blind Rehabilitation program, where he learned the requisite skills to live life independently over the past four years, Steve has been climbing and mountaineering around the world with other combat injured veterans. He also assisted in two international humanitarian projects. He has climbed five of the world’s highest mountains on five continents, has now participated in the U.S. Paralympics Military Program, and began his college education. A film entitled “High Ground” recently released at the Boulder, Colorado, International Film Festival documents Steve’s ascent of Mount Lobuche, one of the tallest peaks in the Himalaya Mountains. Additional information about the movie and Steve’s is available on the following page on the Army website:

1st Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Donarski (Ret.) had little patience for the challenging game of golf several years ago. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find a guy that is not only devoted to improving his personal golf game, but who also puts on golf clinics for non-profits organizations like Fisher House Foundation. What is especially extraordinary about Donarski, besides his golf game, is his volunteering by playing in golf events arranged by The Salute Military Golf Association for wounded veterans and the Major Charles R Soltes Jr. O.D. Memorial Golf Event benefit for BVA Operation Peer Support veterans.

Ski was nearly killed in 2006 while serving in Iraq. A member of Special Forces, 1st Lt. Brian Donarski, 35D, 44 years old, is a former Marine injured in Gulf War I by a blast and discharged in 1998 with a Purple Heart. Trying to join the Army after 9/11, he had to obtain four waivers to become an Army officer in 2004. His team members hit an anti-tank mine in Iraq in 2006 on convoy. He suffered debilitating and nearly fatal injuries with a stable burst fracture in his neck and bulged disks in his lower back. He also ripped his right shoulder out of joint and lost the vision in his right eye. He now wears a prosthetic soft lens in that eye due to optic nerve and brain issues. Also among his injuries was Traumatic Brain Injury

“By all accounts of the accident, I should be dead,” Donarski said. “But for some reason, the fuel in the tanker I was carrying didn’t ignite. That’s got to mean that I’m still here for a reason.”

Like many soldiers and veterans, Donarski had trouble adjusting to life after his injuries. He used golf as a tool to help him slow down and re-acclimate while helping his fellow wounded veterans. Donarski has earned himself quite a reputation in the world of professional golf, which is especially impressive considering the handicaps with which he now plays. Golf was such a valuable therapy tool in Donarski’s recovery early on as he worked with other wounded veterans and helped them with their game. Donarski believes the rehabilitative benefits of golf can improve the mental and physical condition of wounded warriors returning from combat. Donarski has three times qualified to play in President George W. Bush’s Warrior Open, a tournament in Dallas, Texas, featuring servicemen and servicewomen who were severely wounded in the Global War on Terror. He also finished in the No. 1 spot in a tournament held in Washington, D.C. These victories qualified him to go to Scotland to play famous Kingsbarns, St. Andrews course, and several other prestigious courses. Ski is participating second time in the Major Charles Rob Soltes Jr. O.D. Memorial Golf event for the second year to be with his OIF-OEF peers with vision loss and their families and friends.

Dr. Thomas Zampieri served on active duty as a Medic in the United States Army from 1972 to 1975. Upon completing Physician Assistant training, he was an Army National Guard Physician Assistant from September 1978 to August 2000, retiring as a Major. He was a Military Flight Surgeon for 13 years. Tom is a graduate of the Hahnemann University Physician Assistant Program (June 1978). He obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree from State University of New York and worked as a Surgical Physician Assistant within the VA system for 19 years. He graduated with a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, in 2003.

Tom completed his Political Science Ph.D. through Lacrosse University in December 2005 as a member of the National Political Science Honor Society. For 25 years he worked in a variety of clinical settings as a Physician Assistant in private practice, at university medical centers, and for the Department of Veterans Affairs at three different VA Medical Centers. He has co-authored medical journal research articles and has presented medical lectures nationally, including three VA national medical teleconferences.

Tom was employed as the Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association from April 21, 2005 until November 23, 2013. He presented testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs 21 times during his tenure. Tom made his fifth trip to the United Kingdom as the Coordinator of Project Gemini this year. He lives in Pearland, Texas. Tom serves on the BVA Board of Directors and is the Board Liaison for the BVA Operation Peer Support Committee.

Veterans Representing BVUK

Colin Williamson, British Army veteran, served in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in the U.K., Germany, and during two tours of Northern Ireland on Operation Banner. Colin’s sight loss is due to neurological damage after he suffered a trauma to the skull which resulted in five skull fractures. Army UK “Gunner” has been blind since 1995 and has served for more than 10 years on active duty. He now works for Blind Veterans UK as cadet instructor for blind veterans enrolled in a rehabilitation program and carries the following title: Communications Officer and Contributing Editor for the monthly BVUK magazine. In addition to his general job of coordinating Blind Veterans UK’s public outreach, Colin has also been the coordinator of the annual Project Gemini exchanges since May 2011. Project Gemini has now hosted 30 BVA veterans and most recently four South African veterans.

Afghanistan War (OEF) BVUK veterans British Army Corporal William Drinkwater and Corporal Ken Facal were both injured in the same Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast and both sustained vision loss, among other severe injuries.

Billy joined the Army in August 2002. Both he and Ken began serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2007. While on a tour in the Afghan Helmand Province in January 2011 with Ken, the two experienced a horrific accident in a Taliban Compound as an IED detonated that robbed them both of their sight. Ken and Billy knew each other from the start of their time serving in Iraq together and then twice in Afghanistan. Their roles were in Black Ops, where they were responsible for clearing routes of IEDs. Together they relate the events of the day that forever changed their lives.

Ken, now 29, was 17 and in college when he decided to join the UK Armed Forces. He was too young to join the police force but decided to join the Army after seeing an advertising compaign. He served did two tours of Afghanistan and one in Iraq with the British Army. He was first injured in an IED blast in 2010 and then again in 2011. Ken was in a coma for a month after his injuries. He began his rehabilitation after meeting other BVUK members who visited him. Both Billy and Ken are active participates in several BVUK events and volunteer to help all members. They both participated in BVA’s Operation Peer Support 2012 and Project Gemini exchanges and active peer volunteers in the UK participating in sports and community events.

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British Blinded Veterans To Join American Counterparts At Annual California Memorial Golf Event

Five blinded American veterans and three British Army war-blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the Major Charles R. Soltes, Jr. O.D. 11th Memorial Charitable Golf event October 12 in Irvine, California.

The group will then join dozens of other golfers registered for the annual competition at the Oak Creek Golf Club, site of the day’s activities.

Range practice and competition begins at 11 a.m., followed by lunch and a full tournament round, a silent auction, a live auction, and an evening awards program. Proceeds of the event go to the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives.

Major Charles Robert (Rob) Soltes, Jr., O.D. served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserves, in Mosul, Iraq, with the critical mission of assessing and restoring medical infrastructure to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens. On October 13, 2004, his convoy was attacked by a vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in his offering of the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Dr. Soltes was the first optometrist killed in action while on active duty in the United States Army.

During the course of the day veterans and other golfer attendee donors will honor Soltes’ memory by furthering his personal desire to help veterans. Members of his family, friends, and colleagues will also be present.

BVA shares in the spirit and passion of helping fellow veterans, in particular blinded veterans, through its Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives.

Operation Peer Support, begun in 2006, brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight during the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have lost their sight most recently with opportunities to interact with men and women who can, as a result of their experience, serve as natural role models and mentors.

Project Gemini, an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, brings together veterans and service members from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, heightens public awareness within the two countries of the issues facing veterans with vision loss, resulting in improvements in services, vision research, and benefits for both them and their families. Project Gemini is highlighted by a weeklong exchange in England every year in early June.

Veterans participating in the golf event are Operation Iraqi Freedom vets Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Dornaski, First Sergeant Daniel Wallace, and Specialist Steve Baskis. President BVA Dale Stamper, blinded in the Vietnam War, and Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself and member of the BVA National Board of Directors, will accompany the veterans.

The UK Army veterans include Corporal Billy Drinkwater and Ken Facal both injured together in Afghanistan in 2011 by an IED blast, and Gunny Colin Williamson, injured in Northern Ireland.

Blind Veterans UK, formerly St. Dunstan’s, is the British national charity for visually impaired ex-servicemen and women. Tracing its founding back to 1915 during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive support to all UK blinded veterans and this year commemorates its 100th anniversary. BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, for the purpose of establishing the Association to represent blinded veterans and their caregivers.

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Retirement Announcement Brings BVA Praise of Augusto AFB Leadership

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) today recognized the 25 years of leadership and service to people with disabilities provided by Carl R. Augusto, who this week announced his retirement from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), effective in the spring of 2016 to ensure a smooth transition for his successor.

“The effective partnership that BVA has continued to enjoy with AFB over the years is due not only to Carl’s remarkable leadership and dedication but his willingness to place veterans with vision loss and their families among his highest priorities and greatest concerns,” said BVA Executive Director Al Avina. “We are forever grateful for his service and wish him the very best in both his final months at the AFB helm and in his upcoming retirement.”

Augusto joined AFB in 1991. During his tenure he has become a longtime champion of people with disabilities and a pre-eminent leader in the field of blindness. Under his leadership, AFB has made significant strides in helping to level the playing field for people with vision loss, especially in the areas of public policy, advocacy, education, technology, aging, and employment. His contributions have helped improve the quality of life and access to services for blinded veterans.

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Members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) residing in Districts 1 and 2 have elected fellow blinded veterans Dennis O’ Connell of Long Beach, New York, and David Fox of Dayton, Ohio, to national office as Directors of their two respective districts. As such, the two become voting members of the Association’s National Board of Directors.

O’Connell and Fox will officially assume their duties following a swearing-in ceremony August 16 at the BVA 70th National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. O’Connell succeeds David VanLoan of Moosup, Connecticut, in District 1 while Fox replaces Freddie Edwards of Indianapolis, Indiana, in District 2.

A member of BVA’s New York Regional Group, O’Connell is a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam era. He joined BVA in 1987. Since then, he has served his regional group as president two different times, as the regional group newsletter editor continuously since 1996, and as the current treasurer.

O’Connell has served as a national representative for BVA on VA initiatives and committees and has been a regular participant in VA-sponsored sports and fitness events. He was appointed by two New York State governors to consecutive terms on the State Rehabilitation Council. He attended VA residential Blind Rehabilitation Training and Computer Access Training in at the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West Haven, Connecticut, in the early 1990s.

An Air Force retiree and later a retiree from Civil Service after 29 years, Fox has been a member of BVA since the late 1990s. He is a member of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (O-K-I) Regional Group, having served as its sergeant-at-arms, chaplain, and secretary. For the last three years Fox has served as the group’s president. He is also a past commander for a local post of AMVETS.

More recently, Fox has volunteered at the Dayton VA Medical Center and works closely with the low-vision clinic staff there. He attended Blind Rehabilitation Training at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines, Illinois, and at the recently inaugurated Cleveland Rehabilitation Center. He attended a BVA leadership training program in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2006. Fox began losing his sight at age 25, a challenge that he asserts became less complex after discovering the support system that BVA provided to him.


New BVA Membership Application!

BVA has updated and re-designed our membership application to be more accurate and easier to use. Below you can find the application in a variety of formats: .PDF, a modern Word document, and an old-format Word document. If you have any questions about this application, please email us at, or call 1-800-669-7079.

BVA Membership Application PDF

BVA Membership Application Word 97-2003

BVA Membership Application Word 2010

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Upcoming Changes to the Field Service Program

The Field Service Program is entering a period of transition to increase efficiency of services provided to blinded veterans.  The Blinded Veterans Association is creating a Field Service Program Resource Center to be a one stop shop for services provided by BVA.  The new FSP Resource Center will feature a dedicated toll free number which any blind veteran across the nation can call and receive services from any BVA National Field Service Officer regardless of where they live.  This will streamline services and provide consistency to all veterans.

Starting September 01, 2015 all Field service calls will be routed through the new Field Service Program Resource Center.  As part of this transformation, all of BVA’s National Field service Regional Offices will be relocating to the new Field Service Program Resource Center.  All Volunteer Offices will remain open.  The new Field Service Program Resource Center will be located in BVA Headquarters at 125 N West Street, Alexandria VA. To ensure all veterans have access, the toll free number 844-250-5180 is active and will be temporarily routed through the Headquarters receptionist until the resource opens.

As Volunteer National Service Officers (VSNO) are a valuable asset to the FSP program, BVA will begin offering VNSO specific Training at conventions starting August 2016.  The new VNSO specific training will be dedicated to provide training and support to VNSO’s whom are accredited with BVA and dedicating 1000 hours annually to help veterans with claims.

BVA Field Service Resource Center

125 N. West St, 3rd Floor

Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: 844-250-5180 (Toll Free)

Fax: 202-371-8258


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Applicants Sought for immediate opening. BVA is looking for a self-directed and highly effective veteran to fill an immediate opening for a full-time position in our DC office. The Director of Government Relations will be a major part of BVA’s advocacy presence in Washington, DC and engages media on relevant Veteran Affairs (VA) and blindness issues.

Duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to the following:

Review federal laws, programs, and policies concerning individuals with disabilities.

Advise and assist in the development, administration, coordination, and execution of plans, policies, resolutions, and BVA procedures.

Participate in rulemaking and other activities in partnership with various federal agencies.

Possess a broad knowledge of, and serve as a key communicator of, BVA policies and programs and is a link between BVA, Congress, and other veterans’ and military service organizations.

Develop legislative initiatives, coordinate sponsors and co-sponsors of bills introduced in congress and educate BVA officers and membership on the status of legislation, regulations, and policy development.


  • Disabled veteran preference, some experience in advocacy, communications, working on Capitol Hill, or with/within the federal government, or in a related field.
  • Strong writing skills.
  • Blinded or visually impaired war veteran strongly preferred.
  • Excellent organization and leadership skills, ability to work on multiple tasks under pressure and tight deadlines
  • Ability to plan and execute successfully with limited oversight.
  • Commitment to the goals of BVA and able to communicate those effectively.
  • A background with public speaking and media experience are a plus.
  • Ability to travel

BVA is an equal opportunity employer.

Send the resume & cover letter by postal mail or email to:
Blinded Veterans Association
Attention: Mr. Al Avina
125 N. West St, 3rd Floor
Alexandria, VA 22314


Staff Emergency Physician Honors Fallen Friend by Dedicating Ironman Participation to Blinded Veterans

Dr. Robert Chen, a Staff Emergency Physician at the Carolinas Medical Center and a partner of Cabarrus Emergency Medicine Associates, will run, swim, and ride his bicycle in the renowned 140-mile Cairns, Australia, Ironman triathlon on June 14.

A retired U.S. Air Force Officer and a longtime avid runner, Dr. Chen is dedicating his efforts in memory of his close friend, U.S. Army Major Charles Robert (Rob) Soltes, O.D., the first Army optometrist to lose his life in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Major Soltes was killed by a vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device in northeastern Mosul in October 2004.

As an additional motivation for his Ironman challenge, Dr. Chen has already donated $1,400 to the Operation Peer Support initiative of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), a commitment of $10 for each mile. He challenges all interested parties to commit any possible amount per mile for the 140 miles he plans to complete.

The “Chen Challenge” seeks to heighten public awareness of the issues facing vision loss by supporting BVA’s efforts to assist newly blinded veterans. The organization began Operation Peer Support in 2006, bringing together veterans of recent conflicts who have lost their sight during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with those of the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras.

“Physical and emotional isolation can be a huge issue for those who have only recently lost their eyesight,” said BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri, who has provided much of the impetus for Operation Peer Support during the past nine years. “Opportunities to connect with and mentor those who have faced these obstacles and overcome them, both at our conventions and in other settings, have brought some wonderfully positive results.”

Dr. Chen has been training for the Cairns Ironman for 18 months. He swam 2.5 miles on a lake two times during the past two weeks and within four days he completed two rides of more than 100 miles each.

Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, BVA is an educational, charitable nonprofit (501c3) organization. The tax identification number for BVA is 530214281. The Association’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms U.S. Army Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, for the purpose of establishing an organization that would advocate on behalf of veterans who had lost their sight.

For more information about the Chen challenge or to make a pledge to support Dr. Chen, see the online flyer provided by the accompanying link or visit

A second event, also made possible by a close friend of Major Soltes and his family, will simultaneously honor the Army optometrist while helping blinded veterans in a fashion similar to that of the Chen Challenge. Tom Clarke of Irvine, California, annually organizes the Major Rob Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament. The event, to be held this year on October 12 in Irvine, also donates proceeds to Operation Peer Support. For more information about the Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament, call 949-438-0140 or again visit

Chen Challenge Flyer

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Intense BVA Week in Nation’s Capital Culminates in Wreath Laying

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.

National Service Officer and Training Coordinator Wade Davis, left, and Field Service Director Ed Eckroth represented BVA in the Parade of Colors at the beginning of the amphitheater ceremony. Ed carried the U.S. flag in the procession while Wade marched with the BVA flag.

National Service Officer and Training Coordinator Wade Davis, left, and Field Service Director Ed Eckroth represented BVA in the Parade of Colors at the beginning of the amphitheater ceremony. Ed carried the U.S. flag in the procession while Wade marched with the BVA flag.

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.

VFW Escort begins walk toward Tomb of the Unknowns with Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth.

VFW Escort begins walk toward Tomb of the Unknowns with Wade Davis, Al Avina, and Ed Eckroth.

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 Minney with Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Staff Director Eric Hannel.

Glenn Minney with Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Staff Director Eric Hannel.

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. 171), 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.”

Glenn sets for presentation, now just moments away.

Glenn sets for presentation, now just moments away.

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

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