“Until we meet again in Spokane in just one year, I bid you farewell, safe travels, and Godspeed,” said BVA National President Sam Huhn as he struck the wooden gavel that officially adjourned the BVA 67th National Convention and created still a new section in the annals of the Association’s rich history.
Events of the convention, which were held at both the Galveston Island Convention Center and the Hilton Galveston Island Resort where attendees lodged, came to a close with the annual Awards Banquet on August 23.
The banquet featured the recognition of Thomas Hicks of the Northern Arizona Regional Group as winner of the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement. It also highlighted Randall Durrigan of the Southeast Massachusett - Rhode Island Regional Group as recipient of the Irving Diener Award for exemplary service to his group, and Enrique Sanchez of the New York Regional Group as the winner of the David L. Schnair Award for his dedicated work as a BVA volunteer.
The Missouri Regional Group, represented by Paul Mimms, was awarded the Gold Gavel for the largest numerical membership increase (32) while Dan Curtis received the Silver Gavel on behalf of the Southern Arizona Regional Group for the largest percentage increase in membership (4 percent).
Hosted by the Greater Houston Regional Group and chaired by BVA National Treasurer Roy Young, this year’s gathering included a unique three-hour live auction on Tuesday evening (August 21) to offset convention expenses, a BVA-sponsored blood drive outside the Convention Center earlier that day, and a host of small-group sessions relating to current technology, self-defense, and new services to the blind and visually impaired.
Convention attendees and volunteers numbered approximately 350, including 114 blinded veterans, 80 family members and friends, 60 individual exhibitors in 32 booths, and a host of professional presenters and volunteers from local Veterans Service Organizations, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews, and other community organizations.
Tuesday’s Opening Business Session began with presentation of the colors by the Armed Guard of the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, a keynote address by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, and remarks by Galveston Mayor Lewis S. Rosen, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston) Director Adam C. Walmus, and Medical Center Visual Impairment Service Outpatient Rehabilitation Director Karen Petty.
The Wednesday Father Carroll Luncheon audience was favored by an address by Carl Augusto, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Mr. Augusto presented former BVA Executive Director Thomas H. Miller with the prestigious Irvin P. Schloss AFB Advocacy Award. Although the award came about in 2003, Mr. Miller is only its third recipient.
Now in its seventh year as a BVA national convention component, the organization’s Operation Peer Support initiative brought seven recently blinded service members, including two from the United Kingdom, who lost their sight in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). An additional 11 participants who had attended a previous convention paid their own way to attend this year. This number included three additional British blinded veterans.
Operation Peer Support brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War era. The program’s aim is to provide newly blinded veterans, or service members if they are still on active duty, with examples of and opportunities to interact with men and women who have led prosperous and happy lives despite having to adjust to sight loss at one point in their lives.
Convention activities of Operation Support included seminars, discussions, and demonstrations in the areas of educational and VA benefits, technology, self-defense, and career planning. The group also participated in an afternoon of paddling on kayaks on nearby Galveston Bay, courtesy of Team River Runner, and a VIP tour and visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Before and after scheduled activities, many conventioneers already accustomed to a bit of heat and humidity found an appropriate escape on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico or the wide walkway running parallel to Seawall Boulevard on which both the Convention Center and the Hilton Resort are situated across the busy thoroughfare. An abundance of nearby dining options were also available to them.
Also running concurrently with BVA’s meetings was the second annual Department of Defense-VA Eye Care Conference, planned and organized by the Vision Center of Excellence. Topics again this year focused on improving the tracking and treatment of combat injuries affecting vision.
In the convention’s Closing Business Session, BVA delegates and other registered blinded veteran attendees voted to pass two bylaw amendments and 13 resolutions. A third proposed bylaw resolution was withdrawn by BVA National Vice President Mark Cornell prior to a vote. All national officers on the BVA Board of Directors–President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer–were re-elected to complete the second year of their two-year terms of office.
BVA members also ratified Spokane, Washington, as the site of the Association’s 68th National Convention in August 2013. Precise dates and the exact hotel venue for the convention will be forthcoming in upcoming issues of the BVA Bulletin and at www.bva.org/convention.