PANEL OF BLINDED VETERANS TO ADDRESS TBI AND VISION LOSS AT DENVER CONFERENCE

Three blinded U.S. military veterans affiliated with the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative will share their stories of vision loss as a result of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) suffered in combat situations as part of a special presentation and panel discussion May 2 in Denver, Colorado.

The session is free of charge and open to the public. Scheduled for the Colorado Convention Center’s Mile High Ballroom 1CD, the discussion is a preliminary event of the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), the largest eye and vision research organization in the world.

The ARVO conference is the largest international gathering of eye and vision researchers, attracting more than 11,000 attendees from approximately 75 countries. Official dates of the conference are May 3-7.

Panelists are Navy Chief Petty Officer Glenn Minney (Ret.), current Director of Government Relations at the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, severely injured in 2005 when an Iraqi mortar exploded 30 feet in front of him; Army Staff Sergeant Sean Johnson (Ret.), injured in the line of duty by a mortar blast in 2006; and Army Sergeant Shianti Lee (Ret.), injured in 2005 when the vehicle in which she was riding was hit by explosives while accompanying Special Forces on a mission in Taji, Iraq.

Following panelist participation and their stories of vision loss, a question and answer period will be open to participation by all attendees. Retired National Football League running back Terrell Davis, Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXXII (1998), a game in which he also experienced a concussion and temporary blindness, will be in attendance and present closing comments at the end of the session.

Each of the panelists is legally blind while retaining a minimal degree of vision. All experienced Traumatic Brain Injury among their multiple injuries. BVA first became acquainted with them and their stories when inviting them to attend a BVA national convention as part of Operation Peer Support, an initiative connecting combat-blinded veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam with newly blinded veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, most often by improvised explosive devices or sniper fire.

The session will open with presenters Ann C. Mckee, MD of Boston University (Retinal Pathology in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy); Randy H. Kardon, MD, PhD of the University of Iowa (Visual Sensory Impairments and Progression Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury); Glenn C. Cockerham, MD, PhD of the Palo Alto Veterans Health Care System (Afferent Visual Function in Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury); and Lee E. Goldstein, MD, PhD of Boston University (Traumatic Brain Injury and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes, Combat Veterans, and Experimental Models of Impact and Blast Neurotrauma: Implications for Ophthalmology and Vision Research).

BVA was established in March of 1945 when a small but close-knit group of World War II blinded veterans gathered together in Avon, Connecticut. The founders hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and to regain their confidence and independence. This dedication has continued for 70 years. Eligibility for assistance does not require that a veteran’s blindness be service connected. There is no charge for any BVA service. For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit the organization’s website, www.bva.org.

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Winter Sports Clinic Offers Veterans New Hopes, Heights

Some 350 veterans from across the United States, all of whom have been challenged in their lives with at least one disability that in several cases includes vision loss, have converged this week on Snowmass Village, Colorado.

The purpose of their trip, the 29th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic held March 29-April 3, consists of five days of physically demanding competition, training, instructional workshops, rehabilitative recreation, leisure activities that offer participants new opportunities for camaraderie and the attainment of new personal heights.

Co-sponsored and organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the clinic is the largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world today.

BVA Region 6 National Claims Officer for veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn

BVA Region 6 National Claims Officer for veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn

Activities in 1987, its inaugural year, were primarily adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing. They have grown over the years to curling, scuba diving, fly fishing, wheel chair golf, wheelchair self-defense, wheelchair fencing, amputee volleyball, rock wall climbing, sled hockey, trap shooting, blues harmonica instruction, dog sledding, kayaking, and even goal ball for the blind and visually impaired.

The clinic targets disabled veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, and visual impairments. It seeks to enable veterans to re-discover their lives after facing a new disability and encouraging them to reject the limits that society poses on them because of such a disability. The long-term goal is to help the disabled veteran achieve higher levels of self-actualization and empower him/her to live a happier, healthier, and more productive lifestyle.

Although expenses such as lift tickets, meals, and equipment are covered by the event, attendees pay for their own transportation and hotel rooms. The balance of the event budget, approximately 80 percent, is taken care of by donations and sponsorships.

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Blinded Veterans Association Celebrates 70th Anniversary

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), the only Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to promoting the welfare of the nation’s blinded veterans and their families, will commemorate 70 years of such service on March 28.

Veterans blinded during World War II established the Blinded Veterans Association at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital just outside Avon, Connecticut, on March 28, 1945. The founders of the new organization hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and regain their confidence and independence through education, rehabilitation, and camaraderie. Through BVA’s advocacy during its 70 years of service, blinded veterans enjoy unprecedented access to world-class Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) residential rehabilitation programs, technology, and the benefits and compensation that they have rightly earned as a result of their service.

Since 2010, the Association and its constituents and friends have referred to March 28 as Blind Veterans Day. The designation stems from House Joint Resolution 80 of the 111th Congress, authored by then Representative Debbie Halvorson of Illinois. The resolution, which acknowledged the Association’s humble beginnings and called upon all Americans to remember blinded veterans on March 28 in future years, was also passed by the Senate on March 18, 2010 and signed by President Barack Obama on April 7 of that same year.

All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. As members, they resolve to assist others in understanding and receiving the rightful benefits they earned by virtue of their service and to learn how to live and work independently. BVA also represents the interests of all legally blind veterans before the legislative and executive branches of government and encourages them to participate in VA rehabilitation programs.

BVA’s Field Service Program provides emotional support and counsel to blinded and visually impaired veterans. It also links them with VA benefits and serves as an advocate for them in the VA claims process. Eligibility for assistance is not dependent on service-connected blindness. Loss of sight may result from macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or other conditions of the eyes.

Recent VA research estimates that there are now approximately 132,000 legally blind veterans in the United States. BVA seeks to locate the more than half of these men and women not yet identified or enrolled in VA Health Care programs.

There is no charge for any BVA service and membership is not a prerequisite for assistance. For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit the BVA website at www.bva.org.

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BVA District 2 Announces Monthly Leadership Training Teleconference

BVA District 2 Director Freddie Edwards recently announced the creation of a monthly leadership training teleconference for BVA leaders & members. Each month will feature different topics regarding BVA, strategies for the regional groups, and opportunities to meet representatives of each state. This recurring teleconference starts on the second Monday of each month at 1300 or 1:00 PM Central Standard Time.

Full details for the next training opportunity:

This month, Paul Mimms (BVA National Treasurer) and Freddie Edwards (District 2 Director), summarize the actions by the BVA National Board during the BVA Mid-Year Board meeting. This week-long session allowed the National Board to visit the new BVA Headquarters in Alexandria, VA, conduct an in-depth look at current BVA actions, and set the agenda for the future.

The second part of this training teleconference will examine precisely how a Regional Group might implement Robert’s Rules of Order in their meetings. It is strongly advised to review the BVA Regional Manual on this topic.

The precise agenda for the teleconference includes:

  • General Introductions (5 minutes), Everyone
  • Mid-Year Board Meeting Summary (30 minutes), Paul and Freddie
  • Robert’s Rules of Order (30 Minutes), Paul
  • Question and Answers (10 minutes), Everyone

The following list outlines the tentative topics the teleconference will cover this year:

April

  • Duties and responsibilities of Regional Group Officers
  • Proposed Guest Speakers – BVA Executive Committee

May

  • Services and functions of the BVA Field Service Officers and National Volunteer Field Service Officer
  • Proposed Guest Speaker – BVA Field Service Officer

June

  • What is a Regional Group Delegate, and what do they do?

July

  • BVA National Convention Overview and business related activities
  • Proposed Guest Speaker – BVA Convention Manager

August

  • Informal meeting reviewing the National Convention

September

  • BVA National Convention summary

October

  • Identifying, developing, and executing outreach objectives

December

  • End of the year review

If you have specific questions about BVA, Blind Rehab Services, or other topics, please email Freddie Edwards, (fed5318@sbcglobal.net), Paul Mimms, (paul8655@gmail.com), or Timothy Hornik, (timothy.hornik@gmail.com).

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BVA Saddened by Passing of Buck Knife Philanthropist and Friend

Charles T. “Chuck” Buck, the third generation behind the Buck Knives company and most recently the company’s chairman, passed away February 6 of congestive heart failure.

Buck was a supporter of BVA and its mission, having sponsored events at national conventions. In August 2013 at the BVA 68th National Convention, Buck Knives, Inc. supported the Father Carroll Luncheon and other convention activities.

Retired Marine Graham Crutchfield, a close friend of Buck’s, presented all blinded veteran attendees at the Association’s 64th National Convention in Portland, Oregon, with a personalized commemorative Buck Knife following the convention’s Opening Business Session. Crutchfield coordinated the raising of the funds to purchase the knives at cost from Buck.

The knives were presented at the same convention to Operation Peer Support participants in a special meeting that recognized their sacrifice and service.

           According to Crutchfield, although Buck has supplied the knives to literally thousands of service members, veterans, and families who have experienced the wounds of war from 2005 to the present, he was well aware of BVA’s mission and work—and mindful of the knives presented to veterans with sight loss.

            “The presentations to the blinded veterans were important to him,” said Crutchfield. “As a Navy veteran he understood something of the sacrifices that had been made and what these brave men and women—and their families—have gone through.”

            Buck included with every Buck knife a message from the Buck family addressing the growth of Buck Knives and the determination to make God their Senior Partner.

“I have worked with both Graham and Chuck in the past on projects to get out the Buck Knives to veterans,” said BVA National Vice President Dale Stamper. “Chuck was a great advocate for veterans and we will miss him greatly.”

The first celebration of his life will be held Friday, February 13, 2015 at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, and a final memorial will be held on in San Diego, California, on May 13, the date on which he would have turned 79.

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BVA Member Honored with VA National Volunteer Award

James Hogan, a longtime member of the Southern California Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and a volunteer with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System for the past 12 years, has been recognized as VA’s National Male Volunteer of the Year.

The official award presentation will occur during the 69th Annual VA Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee Meeting and Conference held April 22-24, 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

James Hogan, a resident of Canyon Country, California, has logged more than 2,800 hours of voluntary service during his tenure. He is one of 260 BVA volunteers nationwide performing 34,177 hours of service during BVA’s Fiscal Year 2014 (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014).

Jim & Atticus

Jim & Atticus

James’ dedicated service has also involved his wife, Pam, who volunteers with him. In addition, his guide dog of nine years, Atticus, has worked as a therapy dog for VA Healthcare System patients.

James performs a multitude of volunteer tasks as a VA volunteer, serving blind and visually impaired veterans who are enrolled in the Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) program. As such, he helps veterans attend fishing trips by arranging transportation and for them. He also helps organize monthly VIST Support Group activities. One of his specialties is also outreach to younger Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and their families regarding benefits, adjustment to disability, and educational opportunities. He also actively serves his fellow blinded veterans within his BVA regional group.

James visits regularly with veterans at the Sepulveda VA Community Living Center and Hospice and mobilizes the local Disabled American Veterans chapter to bring food goodies and cheer to hospitalized patients. Accompanied by Pam and Atticus, he visits veterans at the California State Veterans Homes in the Cities of Lancaster, Ventura, Barstow, and West Los Angeles.

James, Pam, and Atticus work with Vietnam Veterans of America on their annual Homeless Stand Downs in Ventura and Antelope Valley, California. They help the Elks raise funds for their annual veterans’ luncheon at their lodge and drive Boy Scouts to place more than 6,000 flags on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, James Hogan was diagnosed with hearing loss as a young boy and quickly began utilizing hearing devices. Determined to fulfill his dream of serving his country, he enlisted in the Navy following graduation from high school in 1966. After serving 4½ years in Vietnam combat areas, he re-entered civilian life in 1973. Ten years later, he was diagnosed with Ushers II, a degenerative disease that causes both vision and hearing loss.

Despite his setbacks, James has worked relentlessly to maintain his active lifestyle. He, Pam, and Atticus are often seen riding through town on a Lightfoot Duo Recumbent Cycle, a side-by-side, two-seat quadracycle they obtained after a refresher course James took at the Palo Alto VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in 2012. He has also been an avid spokesman on behalf of those with hearing loss for the HearStrong Foundation. Last year he was proclaimed as a HearStrong champion by the organization.

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. The organization of approximately 11,500 members was originally founded in Avon, Connecticut, by combat blinded veterans of World War II. For more information, visit www.bva.org.

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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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