Scholarships Announced for 2015-16 Academic School Year

BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2015-16, six under the Kathern F. Gruber classification and one through the Thomas H. Miller program.

The Gruber scholarships are valued at $2,000 each and the Miller scholarship is for $1,000.

The Miller program, now in its third year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards except for an added emphasis on music and fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates.

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of both blinded veterans and active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. The veteran need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association.

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

BVA began its first scholarship program more than 30 years ago. The awards are intended to defray a student’s educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

The scholarships will be awarded on a “most-highly-qualified” basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant’s career goals and aspirations as well as past awards and achievements.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the BVA National Board of Directors has determined that Gruber and Miller scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Applications for the scholarships may be obtained from the Blinded Veterans Association, 125 N. West St, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314, at www.bva.org/services.html (look on Programs page in section entitled “Kathern F. Gruber Scholarships and Thomas H. Miller Awards”), or by emailing the request to temanuel@bva.org.

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 17, 2015. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee’s review, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.

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Foley Moved BVA Forward in ’90s

Carl E. Foley, BVA Past National President and one of the Association’s most influential national leaders of the latter part of the 20th century, passed away January 15 after an extended illness.

The BVA National Board of Directors, staff, members, and friends of BVA nationwide are saddened to hear of his passing and express condolences to Arlene, Carl’s wife of 62-plus years, and his entire family.

A member of the O-K-I Regional Group, Carl was largely responsible for the formation of the group just prior to his election as National President in 1993 at the 48th National Convention in Tucson, Arizona. He first joined BVA in 1973 and served as Director of District 2 from 1976 to 1986.

Carl was known in BVA circles as a man of action who enjoyed innovation, be it new technology, organizational change, or simply trying something different. Friend and fellow regional group member Charles Kuhnwald credits Carl with initiating the Visual Impairment Service Team program at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and bringing the national convention to Cincinnati a year into his national presidency in 1994.

Born in Middletown, Ohio, Carl spent most of his youth in Ohio before his family moved first to Detroit and then to Allen Park, Michigan, during his high school years.

Carl is a Korean War era veteran of the U.S. Air Force and spent much of his time stationed in Japan. Following his discharge from active duty for service-connected vision loss due to an infection of histoplasmosis leading to coreal retinitis, Carl earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Anderson University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Oregon.

Despite his vision loss, which was especially severe in one eye, Carl was able to teach algebra and calculus in Kettering, Ohio, in the early 1970s. Shortly after he lost vision in the second eye and therefore his central vision, Carl resigned from teaching and began selling a Closed-Circuit TV (CCTV) system to other visually impaired individuals. The CCTV, a novelty at that time, allowed him to read and write again.

In 1986 he received a plaque from Visualtek, Inc. for $500,000 in sales. Despite his blindness, he also taught both of his children, Karla and Eric, to drive so that they could transport him to his sales appointments.

Carl worked his way up the BVA leadership chain after the ten years as District Director and a host of positions within his regional group, beginning as National Treasurer in 1987 and culminating as Immediate Past National President in 1997. He was also a member of the American Council of the Blind and founded the Council of Citizens with Low Vision for the Dayton, Ohio area.

In a one-on-one interview with then BVA Communications Coordinator Christopher Bentley shortly after his election as National President, Carl revealed his action-driven character and personality with the following: “Now as President, I want BVA to do more than just maintain the status quo for the next two years. I want us to develop more ways to start new programs. I will certainly keep the membership informed and challenged to help in some near future projects.”

Funeral services for Carl Foley were January 22 in Middletown, Ohio. They were followed by military services at Woodside Cemetery by the Middletown Combined Honor Guard.

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BVA Mourns Loss of Founding Member

Blinded Veterans Association pioneer and founding member Nicholas J. Palermo passed away December 27, 2014 at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. His obituary was published in The New Haven Register on December 30.

Nick was one of approximately 80 World War II blinded service members who joined together on March 28, 1945 for the meeting that formalized the beginnings of BVA at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital. As such, Nick was considered one of the original BVA founders. He was one of only two of the founders still living at the time of his passing.

During the war Nick served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, where he received a Purple Heart for his injuries that caused his blindness. Prior to his retirement he was an assembler for Marlin Firearms and at different periods was an active member of the Connecticut Regional Group. He recently attended meetings of the group.

Left to right, David VanLoan, Thomas Miller, and BVA Founding Father Nicholas Palermo. The photo was taken November 22, 2009 at a reception at the Avon, Connecticut Senior Center. The reception commemorated the 65th anniversary of the adjacent U.S. Army’s Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital, site of BVA’s founding in which Nick was a participant.

Left to right, David VanLoan, Thomas Miller, and BVA Founding Father Nicholas Palermo. The photo was taken November 22, 2009 at a reception at the Avon, Connecticut Senior Center. The reception commemorated the 65th anniversary of the adjacent U.S. Army’s Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital, site of BVA’s founding in which Nick was a participant.

In 2009, Nick attended a community-wide celebration in honor of the 65th anniversary of Avon Old Farms. The event, hosted by the Avon Historical Society and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3272, was also attended by BVA Executive Director Tom Miller and Director of District 1 David VanLoan.

Nick was the husband and childhood sweetheart of Florence Jasinski Palermo. He is also survived by daughter Linda Siegert (Paul) Blackman of New Hampshire and son Jon Palermo of West Haven, brother Lawrence Palermo of East Haven. His sister Marie Cronogue preceded him in death. Grandchildren are Nicole Ohlson of Derby, Connecticut; Carri Berellis of Waterbury, Connecticut; David Siegert and Melanie Blackman, both of New Hampshire.

A visitation was held January 2 at the West Haven Funeral Home at the Green, followed by funeral services. Interment with military honors took place in nearby Oak Grove Cemetery.

Donations in Nick’s memory may be made to Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Inc., 103 Vision Way, Bloomfield, CT. 06002 or to the charity of one’s choice. For online condolences, please visit www.westhavenfuneral.com.

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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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