Veterans Day’s Deeper Meaning

Newly elected BVA National President Mark Cornell, third from left, presented a wreath from the Blinded Veterans Association at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. He was accompanied by, left to right, Honorary Board Member Dr. Donald Gagliano, Executive Director Al Avina, Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri, Director of District 3 Pete Davis, and Field Service Program Director Ed Eckroth. The wreath laying followed Mark’s participation in a White House breakfast and a ceremony the Cemetery Amphitheatre featuring remarks by Congressional Medal of Honor Society National President Harold Fritz, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, and President Barack Obama.

by Timothy Hornik

November 11 is more than a Federal Holiday or a chance to enjoy sales at various stores. The day is rather an opportunity to reflect upon what it means to selflessly serve our fellow man. Starting on November 11, 1918 we celebrated the end of the First World War, remembered the sacrifices of all those who took up the calling to bear arms in defense of our freedom, and laid to rest the remains of a Soldier atop a hill in Virginia overlooking the Potomac River and whose name in a place of high honor only the Almighty knows.

Beginning in 1954, President Eisenhower established this day, November 11, as the federal holiday we know today. On this day each year, we remember those who serve through community events and parades. We take the time to enjoy the company of friends and family. Most importantly, we remember those who died during their service through the laying of wreaths and flowers upon their resting places.

To me, this day possesses a much deeper meaning. Not until the day before I turned 25 did I begin to understand what it means to be a veteran who freely chooses to sacrifice himself or herself in defense of our freedoms.

On November 11, 2004, fate intervened in my life. While on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, a sniper placed his enemy fire within millimeters of ending my life. Entering through the right temple and out the left, the bullet caused me to fall. I soon knew that I would never see the world the same again.

However life changing the event has been to me, what should have destroyed my future has allowed me to transcend blindness, equipped with a stronger sense of self. My freedom of choices laid a road to continue to serve my fellow veterans through various organizations.

From that day forward, Veterans Day has reinforced the strength of my belief that freedom is not free. The call to voluntarily join the Armed Forces is not one that any citizen or every citizen can necessarily answer. It is instead a calling for those who deeply believe internally that they possess the psychological and physical fortitude to withstand the inherent dangers that are so much a part of such service. For those who were drafted, it was a time for them to understand that they were about to face fierce struggles. They acknowledged that although powerless in the choice to serve at that time, they could indeed decide to trust in their Brothers in Arms during the bleakest moments.

Veterans Day is a day to celebrate what it means to be free to choose how to live. We freely speak our minds, select the object of our faith, and pursue the dreams we have that our lives will be rich and beautiful.

Winston Churchill stated: “We make a living by what we get but we create a life by what we give.” In this season let us honor those who gave some, or perhaps all.

About the Author

Timothy Hornik is a Licensed Social Worker, advocating for equality and rights for disabled veterans. His primary focus is directed to his role as the president of the Blinded Veterans Association’s Kansas Regional Group.

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Announcing New Field Service Officer for Region 6-North

BVA is pleased to announce that Eileen Vasquez will begin serving this week as the new Field Service Officer for Region 6-North, which includes Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Eileen is originally from Duluth, MN and currently lives in Saint Paul, MN.   She served in the US Navy for six years.  Her primary function was as a Nuclear Machinist Mate onboard the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

Her service connected eye conditions were first diagnosed in December 2002, becoming legally blind in 2004. She is a lifetime member of the BVA, VFW, and an annual member of the American Legion, DAV, American Council for the Blind and the Optimist Club.  She enjoys participating in the Veterans TEE tournament annually since 2010. Team River Runners (TRR) has become a large part of her life this last year thanks to The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). These groups have enabled her to develop new relationships and experiences including kayaking, bowling and hunting. She has received training from WWP and is a peer mentor for other disabled veterans.

Eileen met her husband Jon in the service and has been married since 2005 which has added a wonderful new dimension to her life; He is supportive of her and knew of her vision impairment and long term diagnosis when he married her.  Her family and friends have made life’s challenges and transitions easier.  She seeks out new challenges and believes that by sharing knowledge we can all live more enjoyable and successful lives.

Eileen attended Saint Catherine University working towards her degree in accounting with a minor in studio art. She was mentioned on the Dean’s list multiple times and is a member of the Business Honor Society.  She has taken a few classes thru Hadley and container gardening was a favorite.  At Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center she studied Braille, JAWS and learned about accessible fun new hobbies like wood turning, golf and tandem biking.  Enriching her own life and others has become paramount to achieving her goals in life, as she believes in improving everyone’s quality of life.

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Candidates Sought for Government Relations Director


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.  Resumes and cover letter must be received by November 10, 2013.

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
477 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

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White Cane Day 2013 Proclamation

Presidential Proclamation
 Blind Americans Equality Day, 2013

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Blind and visually impaired persons have always played an important role in American life and culture, and today we recommit to our goals of full access and opportunity. Whether sprinting across finish lines, leading innovation in business and government, or creating powerful music and art, blind and visually impaired Americans imagine and pursue ideas and goals that move our country forward. As a Nation, it is our task to ensure they can always access the tools and support they need to turn those ideas and goals into realities.

My Administration is committed to advancing opportunity for people with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act and other important avenues. In June of this year, the United States joined with over 150 countries in approving a landmark treaty that aims to expand access for visually impaired persons and other persons with print disabilities to information, culture, and education. By facilitating access to books and other printed material, the treaty holds the potential to open up worlds of knowledge. If the United States becomes a party to this treaty, we can reduce the book famine that confronts the blind community while maintaining the integrity of the international copyright framework.

The United States was also proud to join 141 other countries in signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, and we are working toward its ratification. Americans with Disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired, should have the same opportunities to work, study, and travel in other countries as any other American, and the Convention can help us realize that goal.

To create a more level playing field and ensure students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum, the Department of Education issued new guidance in June for the use of Braille as a literacy tool under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This guidance reaffirms my Administration’s commitment to using Braille to open doors for students who are blind or visually impaired, so every student has a chance to succeed in the classroom and graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

We have come a long way in our journey toward a more perfect Union, but we still have work ahead. We must fulfill the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and expand the freedom to make of our lives what we will. On this day, we celebrate the accomplishments of our blind and visually impaired citizens, and we recommit to building a Nation where all Americans, including those who are blind or visually impaired, live with the assurance of equal opportunity and equal respect.

By joint resolution approved on October 6, 1964 (Public Law 88-628, as amended), the Congress designated October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day” to recognize the contributions of Americans who are blind or have low vision. Today, let us recommit to ensuring we remain a Nation where all our people, including those with disabilities, have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.

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, 2013, as Blind Americans Equality Day. 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.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eleventh day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.




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Candidates Sought for BVA Service Officer Post

For Immediate release:

Posted on October 11, 2013

-Applicants Sought for immediate opening, BVA Field Service Program (FSP) National Field Service officer Post for Region 7.  Resumes and cover letter must be received by October 25, 2013.

 Acting under the general supervision of the National Director, Field Service Program, the  National Field Service Officer (NFSO) is  responsible for  providing  assistance to  blind and visually  impaired veterans,  informing them  of federal, state, and local  benefits and programs available; acting as a role model for the benefit of blind rehab training for blinded veterans  and assisting family members in realizing ways to cope with sight loss and the value  of rehabilitation.

Candidates must possess the following:

•A Bachelor’s Degree in a related field such as counseling, blind rehabilitation or social work is preferred. Education may be substituted with 3 years of additional training or work in a closely related field.

•A legally blind veteran with attendance and successful completion of a training program at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center.  A working knowledge of MS Word, MS Excel and MS Outlook is required.

•The National Field Service Officer (NFSO) must have excellent written and oral communication skills, be proficient in use of special aids or equipment for the blind or visually impaired. This includes correspondence and report writing capabilities. The NFSO must have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills and proficiency in mobility.

BVA is an equal opportunity employer.

Send the resume & cover letter by postal mail or email to:
Blinded Veterans Association
Attention: Mr. Edward Eckroth
477 H Street NW
Washington DC 20001



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Open Letter from BVA’s Executive Director Regarding the Government Shutdown

October 10, 2013                                                                

The Honorable President Barack Obama

United States Senate

713 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear President Obama, Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

As Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association BVA and on behalf of our entire membership, I am writing to express our rising outrage over the partisan politics preventing the federal government from fulfilling many basic obligations owed its citizenry, including sacred obligations to the men and women who have served and are serving to defend our nation.

The failure by all parties to reach agreement on Fiscal Year 2014 funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DOD), and other federal agencies that directly or indirectly support veterans, and to end the government shutdown, is increasingly causing serious harm to our nation’s heroes. As the shutdown continues, this is a new low point and a violation of the trust we place in our elected officials to ensure that our veterans have the benefits and services promised them. Sadly, the damage to our veterans will continue to get worse until all of you, together with a sufficient majority of the House and Senate, reach agreement to end this crisis.

If this stalemate continues for a couple more weeks, even mandatory obligations of the federal government, such as disability compensation and pension paid to veterans and their survivors, will be suspended. More than four million wounded, injured, ill, blinded, and disabled poor veterans who rely on these payments (for some it is their primary or only source of income) will be unable to pay their bills. It is simply unacceptable that there is even the threat of default on these payments to our nation’s heroes.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Majority Leader, the time for posturing and playing politics with veterans must come to an end. We call on all of you to reach agreement and expeditiously enact full Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations for all federal programs, services, and benefits that directly or indirectly support America’s heroes, especially those wounded, injured, and ill due to their service. Many of our blinded veterans who are non-service connected depend entirely upon these small VA pensions and live below the poverty level already. Many who are service connected will be unable to pay monthly bills and could fall into the risk of losing their homes, failing to pay utility bills, or even being unable to buy food.

In addition, we call on you to enact legislation, H.R. 813, which extends advance appropriations to all VA discretionary and mandatory funding so that this sorry spectacle is never repeated.  There is already advance appropriations legislation pending in both the House and Senate and, with your support, it could be quickly amended and enacted to prevent this harm from recurring in the future.

Nearly 150 years ago, during perhaps the most challenging time of crisis our nation has ever faced, President Abraham Lincoln carefully and eloquently laid out the most sacred obligation of our nation: “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”  We now call on all of you to live up to those words.


Al Avina, Executive Director

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Blinded Veterans Commends Chairman Miller and Ranking member Michaud for Introduction of H.R. 813 Advance Appropriations VA Legislation

WASHINGTON (October 4, 2013)—Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Executive Director Al Avina today praised the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Ranking Member for introducing advanced funding legislation for all parts of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The legislation would authorize Congress to approve VA Benefits, Research, and Information Technology appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year instead of for the upcoming fiscal year only. An advance appropriation would provide VA with up to a year in which to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective programs and care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.

“BVA enthusiastically supports this bipartisan legislation that will change the age-old problems inherent in the current budget process which ultimately resulted in severe delays and underfunding of services to veterans,” said Avina, regarding the legislation now unveiled as a partial fix to current shut down. House Bill 813 and Senate Bill 932 called for discretionary spending accounts – those used for things like disability claims processing, VA construction, and veterans’ call centers – to be funded a year in advance. First filed by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, it is modeled after legislation passed in 2009 that enabled full funding of all VA healthcare programs a year in advance.

It is for this reason that all VA medical centers and healthcare operations are up and running today regardless of the shutdown. The 2014 appropriations were included in the FY 2013 budget. Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Michaud sponsored the House Bill – Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 – to keep VA services from becoming a casualty of this kind of partisan politics.

“Today hopefully marks the beginning of a change in the way our Nation cares for those who have bravely defended it,” said BVA Director of Government Relations Tom Zampieri. “If passed, the Putting Veterans First Act of 2013 will significantly improve the ability of our veterans, and in our case those with vision loss, to access VA benefits, research, and have improvements in information technology accessibility independent of a budgetary process that has, sadly, seen delays frequently.”

Zampieri said that the sufficient, timely, and predictable funding mechanism inherent in the legislation would result in improved VA services with greater transparency in its delivery.

“Passage of this landmark legislation would also protect veterans from the political infighting that accompanies each round of the budget process in Washington,” he said.

BVA is one of nine Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations comprising the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform that fully supports H.R. 813 now. The Blinded Veterans Association has assisted blinded veterans and their families in adjusting to life without sight and in regaining confidence and independence since 1945.  For more information, visit

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NY Memorial to Blinded Veterans to be Unveiled October 15

A plaque honoring the many contributions of blinded veterans who currently reside within the State of New York will be unveiled October 15 by the State’s Division of Veterans Affairs Blind Annuity Program.

The special ceremony, which has been planned for national White Cane Safety Day, will begin at 10:00 a.m. at the New York State Vietnam Memorial Gallery in the Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice, Empire State Plaza, in Albany. The Abrams Building is located next to the New York State Capitol Building.

“We felt like it was time to honor our veterans with vision loss in an especially uniquet way this year,” said Veterans Affairs Excelsior Service Fellow Benjamin Pomerance. “We selected White Cane Day for the ceremony because it is a day that honors the work of all Americans who are blind or visually impaired.”

The unveiling of the memorial, which contains a Braille American flag inscribed with the Pledge of Allegiance in Braille, will feature an introduction and welcome by New York Division of Veterans Affairs Counselor Joel Evans and remarks of appreciation by BVA’s own National Field Service Officer Wanda Grover. Wanda serves blinded veterans in BVA’s Region 1, which includes the State of New York.

Other speakers at the event include Sheila Poole, Executive Deputy Commissioner in the Division’s Office of Children and Family Services; Christopher T. Burke, Executive Director of the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany; and Eric J. Hesse, New York Veterans Affairs Division Director.

Although the event is open to the public, individuals interested in attending should RSVP by October 7 to Benjamin Pomerance at 518-474-6114 or at

New York State pays $1,100 annually to eligible blinded veterans and eligible un-remarried spouses. It is the only state that administers such an annuity program. The annuity is paid in monthly installments. Criteria for eligibility include active duty service during specified war-time periods, discharge or release under conditions other than dishonorable, meeting the New York standards of blindness, and continuous residency in the State of New York.

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Preparations Underway for Soltes Benefit Golf Tournament

A unique memorial benefit golf tournament to be held October 28 in Southern California will donate its proceeds to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative for the third consecutive year.

The event, now in its ninth year overall, honors Major Charles R. (Rob) Soltes, Jr., O.D. , an Army optometrist who heroically lost his life in Iraq when his vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device in October 2004. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Long Beach, California also bears Major Soltes’ name.


Left to right at last year’s event, tournament organizer Tom Clarke, Dr. Sally Dang, and BVA Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri.

California native Tom Clarke first organized the tournament in 2005. He is a longtime friend of Major Soltes and his wife, Dr. Sally Dang, who also now works as a Rehabilitation Counselor at the nearby BRC; her three sons; and the couple’s extended families.

The venue for this year’s event will once again be the Navy Golf Course Seal Beach, 5660 Orangewood Avenue, in Cypress, California. The day will include registration and a range/putting contest at 10:30 a.m. followed by lunch and a shotgun tee-off beginning at 1:00 p.m. Evening activities will include a silent auction and banquet featuring speakers Urban Miyares and Steve Baskis, both BVA members. Registration includes a round of golf, green and cart fees, lunch, dinner, and beverages.

For more information and to register online, see the attached brochure and fact sheet in PDF format or visit Registrations can also be faxed to 714-590-2015. Tom Clarke can be contacted directly at 714-389-8830 or

Brochure with Registration Form [PDF]
Fact Sheet

Golf Tournament Details

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CFC Season Kicks Off

BVA Banner hanging in front of BVA headquarters

Federal government agencies and offices across the United States have initiated their drives to support national and local charities through this year’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The campaign, which runs during each autumn season, began in most agencies on approximately September 10.

According to Blinded Veterans Association Director of Development Cheryl Swaim, BVA has been registered with CFC since the late 1980s. In recognition of the 2013 campaign, the Association’s National Headquarters has designed and raised a 3.5 by 16-foot banner pictured here outside its offices in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, DC.

CFC is the only authorized charitable giving drive for employees in the federal workplace. Although employees throughout the country participate in related kick-off events, attend fairs within their respective agencies, and generously donate to specific charities, CFC of the National Capital Area (in which BVA Headquarters is geographically located) is the largest workplace-giving campaign in the world.

The annual fundraising campaign helps support a variety of health, human and other services provided by local, national and international charitable agencies. This single campaign is one of the most cost-efficient fundraising methods available. It succeeds because campaign workers from the federal workforce combine their resources for one coordinated effort.

BVA’s CFC Identification Number is 10513. For additional information about the campaign itself or about donating to BVA as a federal employee, visit

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