The Mid-Atlantic Regional Group

Blinded Veterans Association

Welcome to the Summer 2012 issue of the BVA Bulletin.

Volume Sixty-Seven

Number Three.

 

Cover Photo

 A popular tourist destination attracting more than 5 million visitors a year, downtown Galveston will welcome blinded veterans and their families to the Association’s 67th National Convention. Last-minute convention reminders and tips supplement the regular columns and features of this issue of the Bulletin. Photo courtesy of Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

 

In This Issue

 

Legislative Update

   by Tom Zieri

 

President’s Page

   by Sam Huhn

 

Heights for

Project Gemini

    by Tom Zieri

 

Identity and Internet Security

   by Hugh Greenup

 

Destination Galveston Island

    by Roy Young

 

Telephone Pioneers at 100

    by Michael Taylor


Around BVA

 

Auxiliary’s View

   by Darian Slayton Fleming

 

Chaplain’s Corner

   by Clyde Jackson

 

Of Note

 

Letters to the Editor

 

In Remembrance

 

Final Thought

 

 

Legislative Update

by Tom Zieri

 

Research Funding

 

The ongoing struggle on Capitol Hill over Department of Defense appropriations for battlefield eye trauma research has taken us to a brick wall of sorts. The House Appropriations Committee for Defense passed a measure that included only $5 million for such research in Fiscal Year 2013. Similarly, the Senate Appropriations Committee has historically done very little to make such research a priority.

 

Unless a Member in either chamber offers an amendment to what has already been appropriated, perhaps initiating a floor fight, it is unlikely that the $5 million figure can change. As we have mentioned before, the frustration is especially deep for us at BVA since both the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense have been serious advocates of sensory injury research, which includes both vision and hearing trauma. Earlier this year, both proposed that Congress appropriate approximately $14.8 million for this type of research in 2013.

 

On June 22, senior leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Research and Development visited BVA National Headquarters to update us on current VA research programs, both in general and as such programs currently relate to vision loss.

 

Dr. Randy Kardon, an ophthalmologist from the Iowa City VA Medical Center, discussed his own research in the area of Traumatic Brain Injury Vision System Dysfunction while Dr. Joel Kupersmith, the Veterans Health Administration’s Chief Research and Development Officer, presented an overview of VA research programs and accomplishments dating back to the 1930s. The meeting also included Dr. Patricia Dorn, Deputy Director of Rehabilitation Research and Development Service at VA Central Office.

 

We are grateful for VA’s outreach to all of the Veterans Service Organizations in an effort to inform us of the Department’s most significant research activities.

 

Key Challenges

 

Two crucial legislative issues of interest to BVA members linger in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. The first, the Special Adaptive Housing (SAH) legislation included in S. 914, has encountered several delays.

 

Numerous other bills have been joined with it, thereby making it more comprehensive and more difficult to push through. Because there are sections in dispute (unrelated to SAH) within the legislation, a vote may not take place until late July or even August.

 

The second important legislative piece, which includes both a House and a Senate bill, relates to beneficiary travel. The bills are, respectively, H.R. 3687 and S. 1755. Along with 14 other bills, the Senate actually debated the issue of beneficiary travel in a Senate VA Committee hearing on June 27. We stress that this is only a first step. Now that the hearing is over, we must wait for a decision about when a mark-up vote may occur and which bills will be selected for that mark-up. We are optimistic that this bill will make it to a mark-up sometime in July.

 

With time running out before a six-week summer recess that will include all of August, the possibility of a September vote on this legislation in the House or Senate is a long shot. Although we have 11 co-sponsors on the House side, at press time there were no scheduled hearings.

 

 

 

Charitable Organizations and

Reputable Fundraising Activity     

 

In early June, BVA was pleased when the Senate VA Committee issued a directive to the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury to investigate allegations of misrepresentation on the part of charitable organizations who claim to help the returning war wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. They are, in reality, nonprofits that have ended up raising millions of dollars. In the end, veterans needing the help do not receive the help they need from such organizations.

We have been concerned about this issue for the past five years but are more alarmed now than ever before. Although exact numbers do not appear to be available, one VA source estimated that since 2005, 285 organizations have been established. In each case the groups have been claiming to raise funds to help the seriously combat wounded and their families.

The purpose of the aforementioned directive is to determine whether organizations are violating federal law and abusing their tax-exempt status by misrepresenting their work on behalf of veterans. The suspicion is that these organizations are pocketing extraordinary amounts of money for excessive salaries and benefits for employees.

On May 30, Senate Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner requesting an audit and, where possible, an investigation into potential violations of federal law by the Veterans Support Organization. The Senators were most concerned with abuse of tax-exempt status by the 501(c)(3) organization.

In a second letter sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, the same three expressed concern about the membership criteria used by VA’s Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and NAC’s failure to require any standards of conduct for its members. Senators Murray, Blumenthal, and Nelson pointed out the lack of internal controls as criteria for VA NAC membership. They called for the removal of any organization that fails to conduct itself in a manner befitting VA’s mission or that exploits its relationship with VA for its own financial gain, is misleading, or falsely misleads its functions to the general public.

BVA National Headquarters strongly urges BVA members and the general public to examine a charitable organization’s mandatory Federal Tax Form 990 before making a donation. Most organizations now make these forms available online or will at least provide a hard copy upon request. Look for membership with the Better Business Bureau and what percentage of the funds received are allocated to programs of the organization to help veterans and what percentage is allocated for other purposes.

 

Benefit Programs that

Exploit Elderly Veterans

 

In May, BVA was contacted by the Senate Special Committee on Aging about concerns that elderly and disabled blinded veterans requiring VA aid and assistance may be targeted by financial companies in an effort to gain access to their assets.

A subsequent hearing called by the Special Committee occurred on June 6. Testifying were family members of elder veterans who had been tricked or forced into paying for services that were not legitimate. Individuals posing as financial service companies or law firms were charging such veterans thousands of dollars worth of retirement assets while promising to get them VA Aid and Attendance benefits for long-term care.

After hearing testimony from government officials, veterans advocates, and those who have been victimized by unscrupulous “pension poachers,” Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) promised that the VA Senate Committee would proceed with legislation that would criminalize such activity.

On the same morning of the hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report outlining problems with the VA pension program that allow it to become a marketing tool to sell inappropriate financial instruments to elderly veterans. We are also aware that, prior to the hearing, legal counsel of the Senate Aging Committee had received letters of complaint on this same subject from a number of Senators, including Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), who also testified at the hearing.

One of the most common aspects of “pension poaching” results from VA’s enhanced Aid and Attendance pension program. It is designed to provide a pension for needy seniors and/or their spouses to assist with essential daily activities that they cannot afford on their own. This assistance increases the quality of life for tens of thousands of senior veterans.

Unfortunately, problems with the design and administration of Aid and Attendance have led to a growing industry of predatory financial planners and attorneys who are using the program to target vulnerable seniors, convincing them that they are entitled to a pension for which they would not otherwise qualify.

Although elderly veterans must show that they are financially in need of the support, loopholes in the program allow for creative financial accounting that can make them appear less wealthy than they really are. The financial maneuvering can often affect a senior’s ability to qualify for Medicaid benefits and other government assistance programs.

Part of this maneuvering involves financial professionals selling tools such as annuities and trusts to seniors that the latter cannot touch for years without paying a huge penalty. The poachers also promise to help the veterans apply for the Aid and Assistance benefit—for a fee, of course— while there are numerous government and Veterans Service Organizations that offer free assistance for the applicant.

BVA recently reviewed the aforementioned GAO report on this subject. Among other things, GAO selected a sle of 25 organizations that had nothing inherently in common with one another. The agency successfully contacted 19 of the 25 organizations while posing as a veteran’s son seeking information on Aid and Attendance. All 19 said a claimant can qualify for pension benefits by transferring assets before applying, which is permitted under the program. Two organization representatives said they helped pension claimants with substantial assets, including millionaires, obtain VA’s approval for benefits.

We expect further Senate VA Committee hearings on this subject. We may well see legislation that could restrict the application process further. While such actions may add bureaucracy to Aid and Attendance, they would also result in a decrease in the fraud and exploitation of elderly veterans.

In the meantime, we urge all blinded veterans and their families to be aware of this potential fraud and financial risk to those for whom the Aid and Attendance program was intended. Never hide financial assets. Please also be aware of individuals and organizations that wish to charge fees for filing VA claims when service officers from BVA or other veterans organizations are already there to assist at no charge to the veteran.


Prescription Information Access

 

BVA has followed and supported over the past few months some strong advocacy efforts by the American Council of the Blind (ACB). As a result of ACB’s work, legislation regarding prescription bottle access moved quickly forward until it passed on June 21 in the House of Representatives and on June 25 in the Senate.

At press time, it is expected that President Obama will sign the measure sometime in mid-July or, at the very latest, prior to the mid-summer Congressional recess.

The original bill can be attributed to the work of Representative Edward Markey (D-MA-7), who introduced H.R. 4087, the “Prescription Drug Labeling Promotion Act of 2012,” on March 1. The companion bill in the Senate was S. 3187, the “Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.”

The regulation ensures that people who are blind or visually impaired have safe, independent, and comprehensive access to their prescription drug information and labeling. It convenes a working group of pharmacy representatives, patient and consumer advocates, and federal regulators to develop guidance for pharmacists.

The guidelines will include a range of options that will address the needs of blind and visually impaired consumers, taking into account the challenges faced by smaller pharmacies.

“No one should have to sacrifice their independence or safety to take their medication,” said Representative Markey. He also pointed to the unnecessary illness and added emergency room visits that result from an inability to read prescription labels.

The Prescription Drug Labeling Promotion Act helps turn pharmacies into partners for empowering all Americans to take full control of their health. It is another important step to ensure that individuals who are blind can fully participate in a 21st century society.”

Exles of best practices included in this legislation are enhanced visual aids such as large-print font, sans- font, and high-contrast printing for prescription labels. Non-visual aids will include Braille and auditory aids such as digital voice recorders attached to pill bottles.         

The law will direct GAO to review the degree to which pharmacies are in compliance, including the determination as to whether individuals who are blind or visually impaired still lack safe and independent access to prescription drug labeling.

Most BVA members know that VA Medical Centers have, over the past few years, offered Script Talk to our blinded veterans. We also know that there are many of them who, for a variety of reasons, go to local pharmacies to have their prescriptions filled instead of having it done at VA Medical Centers or Outpatient Clinics. With enactment of this legislation, the Food and Drug Administration will be empowered to make recommendations as to how pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies can best serve not only blinded veterans but the general public.  

 

 

President’s Page
by Sam Huhn

 

For many years now, the beginning of the month of August for me is a clear signal that the BVA national convention is upon us. This year is no exception! My thoughts are in motion regarding the preparations taking place and the personal reunions that lay in store for all of us who have the good fortune to attend.

 

My only regret is such a small percentage of our membership of approximately 11,500 is able to attend these magnificent events. Many of you in our regional groups that are unable to make it, for varied reasons, are among our most distinguished volunteers, advocates, and local leaders. We will miss you and hope that you can join us in the future.

 

Convention time is one of real for many of us. It is a time for us to share our successes as well as our frustrations with fellow blinded veterans who, in many cases, may face the same challenges we face. It is a time to look ahead with greater optimism. From a practical perspective, it is a time to learn which lifestyle changes or technological advances could make the quality of our lives a little better.

 

From what I’ve learned about BVA’s history, our national conventions have always done for blinded veterans what they do for me. Our first convention, held September 20-22, 1946 at the then Hotel Lincoln in York City, was not actually labeled a convention. It was called the First Annual Membership Meeting. The three days represented a Friday-Sunday spent together by the membership.

 

Through an account of that first meeting, written by then BVA Bulletin Editor-in-Chief Lloyd Greenwood in the October 1946 issue, we discover how little some things have really changed over a period of 67 years! Greenwood’s chronological narrative of the meeting covers most of the major events. His second paragraph describing the Friday arrivals is no less than stunning:

 

“Outside in the crowded lobby of the hotel, a seeing-eye dog and his young master picked their way to the desk. The first annual meeting of the BVA was about to officially begin. At 10:00 a.m. the Blue Room was partially filled with a group of intent young men. They were meeting old friends. They were exchanging anecdotes with acquaintances. The talk ran from blindness to baseball to politics and back again to blindness. They discussed blindness objectively, eager to understand it completely, to master it completely. There was no hint of tragedy in the atmosphere. Some of them were thinking, ‘This is our own meeting; this is our own organization. We have gathered together to solve our problems ourselves. This is no elegant social affair conceived to make us forget our difficulties.’”

 

Greenwood goes on to relate that members of BVA found the demonstration of devices extremely enlightening. Dictaphones, Soundscribers, Audiographs, and Wire Recorders were examined with interest. In addition to these, he said, there was a wide assortment of helpful gadgets from the research laboratory of the American Foundation for the Blind, including safety knives, Braille rulers, and measuring tapes, interval timers, Braille micrometers and thermometers, chess sets, and other fascinating games.

 

Strange as it may seem, and despite the superficial changes that have come with technological progress and advances, I submit to you, our Bulletin audience and especially our BVA members, that our national conventions, at least in purpose, are much the same as they have always been.

 

I look forward to our meetings, our social events, and to the wonderful activities and silent auction planned this year by the BVA Auxiliary. I also look forward to recounting these events to those who cannot attend and to the recap of the events that will be published in our next issue.

 

Most of all, I look forward to doing exactly what the blinded veterans of 1946 did in York—meeting old friends and exchanging anecdotes with ones.

 

 

Heights for

Project Gemini

by Tom Zieri

 

The week-long adventure began May 19, a Saturday, when five American blinded veterans departed Washington Dulles International Airport en route to London Heathrow International Airport.

 

Waiting for them across the ocean were six of their British counterparts who, while not sharing the same nationality, share a common bond because of what they have experienced and, to at least some extent, conquered.

 

Project Gemini, a joint initiative of BVA and Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s), seeks to unite blinded veterans who recently lost their sight in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. It includes an all-expense paid trip across the Atlantic Ocean to learn from others’ experiences and engage one another in the process of healing.

 

Now in its second year, Project Gemini organizers Simon Brown and Colin Williamson welcomed BVA members Steve Baskis, Tim Hornik, Mark Schrand, Dexter Durrante, and me at the airport. We were transported to Ovingdean, approximately 55 miles outside London along the English Channel.

 

Arriving at Port Hall, our Home Base for One Week, as we called it, we met Billy Drinkwater, Darren Blanks, Billy Baxter, and Ken Facal, all of whom would spend the next six days giving and sharing of themselves with us, their visitors.

 

After settling into our rooms and getting oriented, the group gathered in the living room to offer introductions and share histories. Each of us described how we arrived at this point in time together as veterans, united through the friendship of our two nations and through the common bond of sight loss.

 

We were joined on Monday by Colonel Donald Galliano, M.D. at the renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital National Health Service Foundation in London. Colonel Gagliano is the current Director of the joint Department of Defense (DoD)/VA Vision Center of Excellence in the U.S. Accompanying him was Bobbi Hillen, VCE Associate Director of Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the VA side of Seamless Transition issues.

 

Jim Jorkasky, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, was also a welcome addition to our entourage this year. Nicknamed the American Professor for the excitement he created by bringing together several internationally known ophthalmology researchers, Jim was a conscientious student of British history throughout the week.

 

Other activities on Monday included a tour of London using the famous Duck Tour. During World War II, the same vehicles used now to conduct the tours were utilized as Higgins Landing Craft built only for the invasion of D-Day. The group toured the Thames River and major historical sections of the city prior to the stop at Moorfields.

 

On Tuesday, blinded veterans of both countries toured all five floors of the Ovingdean Blind Rehabilitation Center. The facility has been used since 1937 when it opened. The first St Dunstan’s facility in downtown London, which opened in 1915, ran out of space as blinded veterans from World War I began returning from the front lines. The Ovingdean Center is very different from VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers in that it offers outpatient training and long-term care with nursing home beds in addition to the residential programs.

 

Other Project Gemini activities included a tour of the famous Tower of London followed by a round of fish and chips, a visit to the Portsmouth Naval Yard, a bus trip to Arundel Castle and Pub, dinner at the renowned BrigHampton Dog Track, and an exchange of Military Unit Awards at a Friday evening barbecue. The latter event was also highlighted by an exchange of gifts and the declaration that each visiting American veteran was now an honorary member of Blind Veterans UK.

 

The veterans grew closer as the week progressed and each shared helpful hints about coping with blindness and the war stories that are part of the adjustment process for each one. They joked and laughed about some things and grew quiet when speaking of lost battle buddies that will never return.

 

Project Gemini left a profound impact on me, said Tim Hornik. For starters, it enabled me a lot of time to sit back and discuss with our veteran peers what it is like to be visually impaired and then to be constantly amazed at how, regardless of where one might live in the world, our trials and tribulations end up being very similar.

 

According to Tim, the exchange helped him put his challenges in perspective and know that others had experienced some of the same feelings and emotions.

 

Being able to share what we have done to overcome our trials, and receiving the true empathy from the other participants after having done so, legitimized many of the feelings I possess.

 

Tim also credited the travel itself with helping him feel more independent.

 

This confidence derived from the fact that we were constantly on the go, using multiple forms of public and private transportation, and implementing the skills learned through rehab and peer support groups, he said.

 

Other participants from both the U.S. and U.K. voiced similar opinions about their week together.

 

I hope this program will continue long into the future, said Steve Baskis. It was truly amazing and memorable, allowing veterans from both countries who have sustained life-changing injuries to learn what is available to them and what can be done to recover and heal.

 

Those to whom we owe our gratitude are more than just a handful. Mention must be made of at least a few. Our inadequate but heartfelt thanks go to Dr. Peng Tee Khaw, Director of Research and Development at Moorfields, for visiting with the group. In his position of responsibility at Moorfields and as the recently elected President of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, he displayed great interest in making every veteran feel welcome during our visit and indicated how honored he was to have various class researchers make presentations to the Project Gemini delegation.

 

We are indebted also to Blind Veterans UK Cadet Youth Challenge Project Officer Colin Williamson, Director of Recreation and Sports Events Louise Timms, and Membership Manager Simon Brown for working out the details of our week and managing the events once we arrived.

 

Much more will be said and written about Project Gemini in the months and years to come. We can only scratch the surface and provide a peripheral view here of this inspiring initiative.   

 

 

Identity and

Internet Security

by Hugh Greenup

 

On October 29, 1969, student computer programmer Charley Kline transmitted a message to a laboratory at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California.

Shortly thereafter, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANet) became the world’s first operational computer network and the core network of a set that eventually comprised the global Internet. The network was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States Department of Defense for use by its project personnel at universities and research laboratories throughout the country.

Throughout the 43 years since, breaches of security within small networks and across the World Wide Web continue to instill fear and panic in individual computer users and businesses across the globe—and for good reason.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, for exle, Wikileaks exposed amazingly poor protection of sensitive material. Predator drone wireless command and control software was overridden by unfriendly fire.

At Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound, our intense wireless monitoring overheard dead silence, suggesting that bin Laden may be inside.

Another exle is the Iranian fission material centrifuges that were sabotaged by a widely circulated worm. And, shortly after September 11, 2001, some downloaded music left behind malicious software in our operating systems. In addition, old Enron emails continue to find their way to senders in Texas courtrooms.

Fast forward to August 2012! Our Blinded Veterans Association now has the capability to distribute the BVA Bulletin in several formats, one of which is a Portable Document Format, or PDF. I find that this is a great benefit to veterans who have at least some remaining useful vision.

Although I enjoy downloading the Bulletin, the process comes with some risk. I certainly wish to avoid the third-party meddling that is always a possibility. For me, the safest means for downloading the file is through the Linux Operating System with a Mozilla Firefox browser. Both Apple and Firefox work well also. A Personal Computer that runs Windows 7 Service Pack #1 would fit into the “Okay” category. Please call Microsoft to obtain a Service Pack (SP1) Windows update by mail for about $10. It is recommended that we do not download this software.

To help minimize these types of security problems, I suggest that computer users turn off their computers and modems when they are not in use. They should turn off JavaScript and not allow any automatic updating.

 Be aware also that mobile, wireless, and satellite text, as well as voicemail and email, are all vulnerable even with the existence of passwords and encryptions.

It was much safer to communicate during previous generations. For instance, Carrier Pigeons were used in World Wars I and II. Simple telephone service was also a solid source for communications. My dad used the telephone in the Army Signal Corps in Germany’s Black Forest while spotting for artillery fire during World War I. The Navy Air Corps used numbers transmitted in Morse Code to my own Torpedo Bomber in order to provide World War II Pacific in-flight orders. During the Vietnam era, we began developing frequency hopping to confuse surveillance. From Iraq onward, the Internet became much more dangerous, much like the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Now, nearing the end of operations in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Dawn), our Internet purchases are more problematic than Saturday morning shopping in a Mogadishu street market. Online banking is much more risky than kayaking off the shore of Somalia.

 

Please be skeptical of the endless frontiers that can be explored when using the Internet. To me, Wikipedia is one of the good guys. I also trust Costco and Wal-Mart for both truth in advertising and online financial security. I trust Amazon when buying with the Amazon Store card. I have direct deposit into my credit union account but I do not do ATMs. I have no debit card activity and, heaven forbid, no authorized direct withdrawals!

There is a VA BRC near you. If you are not yet comfortable with computers, the Internet, and/or the software packages that come with them, please inquire about VA computer training and residential rehabilitation programs. Near me in Los Angeles is Dr. Jane Merrill. She heads up a successful VIST program, which to me makes everything else worthwhile. The VIST provided me with brush-up touch typing, JAWS, and Zoom Text training at a nice facility where lunches are delicious and free. My access is the Los Angeles low-cost para-transit provider, which hauls my wheelchair and me to regular support group meetings and outings.

My Internet computer is not connected to my everyday work computer. There is no wiring and no wireless connection. Transferring a file to or from the Internet can be done via a 4-gigabyte flash card that costs just $5. I have preferred Yahoo spam filtering since an upgrade in the Autumn of 2011. Verizon provides me with 768 kilobits per second of DSL and unlimited local area phone use for a very inexpensive price. VA, it appeared to me, was badly spooked at about the time Wikileaks first received big headlines. Suddenly, I could not get an online printout of my medical appointments or prescription list.

About three years ago, I stopped even clicking on emails that I was not expecting. I regularly download with near total security the podcasts to which I can listen at my leisure on a portable mp3 player. I am pleased to report that, despite the potential pitfalls and dangers in the areas of identity and security, there are plenty of us pre-computer era veterans out here in the trenches who are enjoying and profiting from the grand opportunities offered by the Internet age. The benefits to us outweigh the risks.

 

Hugh Greenup is a World War II veteran and a member of the BVA Southern California Regional Group.

 

 

Destination Galveston Island

by Roy Young

 

Attendees of the BVA 67th National Convention will have simple access to activities that are certain to invigorate, rejuvenate, and prepare them for the business meetings indoors. Some last minute updates about Galveston sights and sounds are clearly in order! Although we’ve covered many of them already in previous issues, we have some ideas too, all in the spirit of enjoying this convention gathering like no other.

 

We also reiterate the important training sessions that may not appear as important and perhaps end up being inadvertently overlooked.      

 

Horseback Riding

 

Convention attendees who love both horses and the beach will have an opportunity to experience them at the same time. They will enjoy the unlimited sensory adventure that is experienced only on horseback around its waterways.

S&;G Horseback Riding is located 11 miles from our convention hotel. Guided trail rides are offered on both the beach and the company’s private bay. The company can also arrange an extended trail ride at the location of the customer’s choice.

Bay rides are $30 per hour per person. Beach rides are $45 per hour. A minimum of two riders are required for both rides. For more information, call 409-457-1465.

           

The Pleasure Pier on Galveston Seawall

The Pleasure Pier is unique for its number of rides over water. Daring souls will fly immediately above visitors who are on the ground at the pier. They will soar over the Gulf of Mexico and anticipate their next ride, which may end up being the Iron Shark Rollercoaster or the Pirate’s Plunge.

The Iron Shark Rollercoaster has a 100-foot vertical lift and beyond-vertical drop. Tracking at 52 miles per hour, the vehicles glide the 1,246-foot coaster track that includes a diving loop, a greater than vertical drop, and four full inversions. Patrons must be at least 48 inches tall to board the coaster.

 

The Pirate’s Plunge

The pirate ship is a specialty log flume that will take blinded veterans and their families through twists, turns, and two drops measuring 40 feet and 22 feet. Convention attendees staying at the Hilton Galveston Island Resort will receive a discount on Pleasure Pier ride tickets.

Each hotel provides shuttles to and from the Pleasure Pier. The arrangement is for periodic trips throughout the day and night. For additional details, visit www.pleasurepier.com or speak with hotel front desk staff.

 

Fishing Trip

Don’t miss the boat!

Some of the best fishing on the Gulf of Mexico will be available to convention attendees who make reservations for August 20 with Galveston Party Boats, 409-763-5423. Please reference BVA to receive the discounted rate of $60. Payment is due upon arrival at the activity. Calling to book space does not require payment in advance.

The deep sea fishing trip will begin at 7:30 a.m. Expected catches include Grouper, Trigger Fish, Angel Fish, King Mackerel, Ling, Amberjack, and the following types of Snapper: Red, Lane, and Vermillion. Arrangements have been made for catches to be donated to the Salvation Army or treated by taxidermy services so that they can be transported home. The trip will take convention attendees 20-40 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Leadership Training and Fiscal Responsibility

Don’t forget that Dennis O’Connell of the York Regional Group will moderate a leadership training session on Thursday afternoon. He will describe the components of successful leadership within a regional group, focus most specifically on Roberts Rules of Order, regional group sletters, and local fundraising.

BVA Administrative Director Brigitte Jones will address the topic of regional group fiscal responsibilities.

 

Technology Session

Paul Kaminsky, former member of the BVA Board of Directors and a current member of the Florida Regional Group, will moderate a discussion on technology. Paul’s focus will be on the latest applications for the iPhone 4S and the iPad. He will outline VA guidelines for the commercial products he describes.

 

Travel Tips From TSA

Remember TSA when you travel! TSA strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect. To that end, TSA launched TSA Cares, a helpline number designed to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.

Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares will serve as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions, or other circumstances—or for their loved ones who wish to prepare for the screening process prior to flying.

The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Eastern Time, and weekends and holidays, 9 a.m.–8 p.m.

All travelers can contact TSA using “Talk to TSA,” a web-based tool that allows passengers to reach out to an airport customer service manager directly, or the TSA Contact Center, 866-289-9673 and TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov, where travelers can ask questions, provide suggestions, and file complaints.

 When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance, either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA.

TSA recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that, when necessary, TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA customer service manager located at the airport.

Every person and item must be screened before entering the secure area of an airport. The manner in which the screening is conducted will depend on the passenger’s abilities and any specific equipment brought to the security checkpoint.

All travelers may ask to speak to a TSA supervisor if questions about screening procedures arise while at the security checkpoint.

 

 

Telephone Pioneers at 100

 

It was just before Christmas in 1968 when a Telephone Pioneer delivered a record player to my parents’ home in Jacksonville, Florida. The Veterans Administration had, only days before, sent me home to recover from my wounds before they could begin a rehabilitation program with me.

 

The Telephone Pioneer who saw me that day could not have confronted a more pitiful person than I was at that time. Nor was there anyone more in need of something to divert his or her attention away from problems than was I.

There weren’t many audio resources available at that time. What was available, however, was most welcome. Most of them came from The Talking Books Library in Atlanta. The books were recorded on hard disk and were large and heavy. I was put on a list to receive sweek. The magazine came on a single long disk that played at eight and a third revolutions per minute and played for two and a half hours on each side.

 

I listened to what was sent to me although the subjects discussed, the language employed, and the reading for reading’s sake all required me to adjust my way of life and thinking. There were articles in sweek that held little interest for me. At that time, the late 1960s, I could not imagine that anyone else could be interested in what I was reading.

 

Having few other options for passing my time in meaningful pursuit, I persevered with listening to things that were over my head. There was nothing else to do and no better way to pass my time. I therefore found myself listening to books from beginning to end, and to sweek cover to cover, week after week.

 

I don’t think it will ever be possible to look back on that time with humor. Nevertheless, listening to my Talking Books doubtless saved what little sanity I had left. I am grateful for that first Telephone Pioneer that brought me my first player. I am grateful to all of the Telephone Pioneers who have repaired and replaced machines for me over these many years, and for the hundreds upon thousands of volunteer hours they have provided to the blind in order to make a difference in our lives.

Telephone Pioneers is celebrating its centennial throughout 2012, having been founded as Telephone Pioneers of America in November of 1911. It is the largest industry-related volunteer organization in the world.

 

Telephone Pioneers consists of a dedicated, diverse network of current and retired telecommunications employees across the U.S. and Canada. It purports to spread its mission of service country to country, city to city, and neighbor to neighbor, just as it did for me in 1968.

 

Since its founding, Telephone Pioneers has engaged in hundreds of projects ranging from helping the disabled to fostering literacy. It supplies health kits in the event of a natural disaster. To me, it was a godsend. I hope that some acknowledgment of the difference this organization has made in the lives of blinded veterans will appear in the form of a resolution at our upcoming convention.

 

Michael Taylor, a Vietnam veteran, is a member of the Florida Regional Group.

           

             

Around BVA

 

Hadley, BVA Forge Partnership

 

The Blinded Veterans Association and The Hadley School for the Blind have formalized a collaborative relationship designed to help both organizations better fulfill their designated missions and offer improved services to the blind and visually impaired throughout the United States and overseas.

The terms of the agreement, signed by The Hadley School President Chuck Young and BVA Executive Director Tom Miller just prior to the latter’s retirement, are for a three-year period beginning May 1, 2012 and ending April 30, 2015.

 “The two agencies recognize that through a formal partnership, working together, they can expand their influence and impact on behalf of those served,” the agreement states.

Both BVA and Hadley are committed to serving veterans who are blind or visually impaired, whether they are service-connected for blindness or experiencing age-related vision loss due to a medical condition. Their commitment to veterans extends to veterans’ families.

On Veterans Day 2011, Hadley launched its Blinded Veterans Initiative, geared toward educating and inspiring blinded veterans to pursue their personal and professional goals and to help support their families.

“We are thrilled to be working with our friends and colleagues at the Blinded Veterans Association to get the word out about this important project,” said Hadley President Chuck Young. “I cannot think of a better partner to support our efforts.”

Judith B. Castellini, Board of Trustees Chair for The Hadley School for the Blind, signed the Memorandum of Understanding for Hadley while BVA Director of Government Relations Tom Zieri signed the agreement for BVA.

The BVA-Hadley partnership will result in cross promotion of each other’s programs and services, expanding the reach and influence of both organizations. Details of the partnership include linking the websites of each organization; outlining the features and benefits of each on the websites, in publications, and through social media and email messages to organization members and constituents; publicizing the partnership at the BVA 67th National Convention; and announcing s about each other’s initiatives and events in their respective publications.

The mission of The Hadley School for the Blind is to promote independent living through lifelong distance education programs for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, their families, and blindness service providers.

The school is the single largest provider worldwide of Braille education and distance education for the blind community. It serves 10,000 students in all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The institution relies on contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations to fund its programs.

The Hadley School was founded in 1920 by William A. Hadley, a former high school teacher who lost his sight at age 55, and Dr. E.V.L. Brown, an ophthalmologist and neighbor. Hadley taught himself Braille so that he could continue to enjoy reading but was frustrated to find that there were few educational opportunities for blind individuals. He and Brown conceived the idea of teaching Braille by mail so that others could acquire skills to foster independence.

 

Awards Presentation Continues PA Regional Group Tradition 

 

BVA of Pennsylvania Regional Group President Wanda Grover represented the BVA of Pennsylvania Regional Group as she presented stipends to two graduating seniors at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. The awards for academic achievement occurred May 25 as part of the school’s Student Recognition Day Program.

 

Overbrook Director Gerald Kitzhoffer noted that Pennsylvania members had been presenting the cash stipends to two graduates of the school as a tradition since 1970. Several longtime regional group members, including current and past national officers Neil Appleby and Sam Huhn, have been involved in the presentations for nearly two decades.

 

Overbrook School for the Blind, founded in 1832, offers programs from early childhood through high school. The school’s mission is to develop and deliver education that enhances the options available for persons with visual impairment so that they have the greatest opportunity to experience active and fulfilling lives. Its building and grounds are modeled after an old Spanish mission.

 

BVA Founding Member Featured in Miami Herald

 

Neighbors, a regular Sunday supplement of the Miami Herald, published excerpts from an interview the publication conducted with Leonard Sperrazza, now one of only three members of BVA who were present at the meeting that inaugurated the Association on March 28, 1945.

 

The feature, which included a photograph of Leonard with his white cane, appeared on May 27 (Memorial Day weekend). Excerpts of interviews with three other veterans were also included in the article.

 

On June 6, 1944, Leonard was one of thousands of Allied soldiers who landed on the shores of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. Only 19 at the time, the article reported, Leonard was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division. Before D-Day, there were 200 men in his division. After D-Day, there were only about 10. His injuries that day left him with shrapnel in his left leg and a bayonet wound in his left shoulder.

 

Leonard was blinded in Saint Lo in northwest France. As enemy fire flashed across the sky, Leonard dug a hole and ran for cover. While taking care of a scared buddy, a mortar shell exploded in front of him. The explosion left him totally without sight and broke his teeth. Now 68 years later, he still has shrapnel lodged in his face.

 

Leonard recovered in Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania and was later sent to Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital in Connecticut for blind rehabilitation training where he and approximately 100 other men attended the meeting that formed BVA. He later settled in North Miami Beach with his wife, Marian, and raised seven children.

 

Leonard’s World War II service earned him a Purple Heart and two oak-leaf pins signifying that he had been wounded three in the war.

 

To the knowledge of BVA National Headquarters, the only two other living BVA founding members are Michael H. Commini, also of Miami, and Nicholas J. Palermo of West Haven, Connecticut.

 

Terry Kebbel Receives Hamilton Relay Award

Terry Kebbel of Las Cruces, Mexico, member of the Rio Grande Regional Group, is the Mexico recipient of the Hamilton Relay 2012 Better Hearing and Speech Month Recognition Award.

Terry received the award from Hamilton Relay’s Mexico Outreach Coordinator Thomas Sena at a blinded veterans support group meeting at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center on June 19. He was also invited by VIST Coordinator Trudi Valdez to speak to the support group after receiving the award.

Established in 2010, Hamilton Relay’s award is presented to influential community leaders in several states nationwide who are hard of hearing, late-deafened, or have difficulty speaking. Terry was nominated by his peers for providing a strong, positive influence within their state.

Hamilton Relay is a leading telecommunications relay and captioned telephone services provider. The company celebrates National Better Hearing and Speech Month each May by presenting the award Terry received. The company also awards scholarships to promising high school students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have difficulty speaking.

 

Headquarters Honors Fallen Who Gave All

Rejuvenated by the experience but jet lagged from their return trip from Project Gemini less than 24 hours earlier, blinded veterans Steve Baskis and Tom Zieri joined BVA Executive Director Al Avina in presenting the BVA Memorial Day wreath at Arlington National Cemetery May 28.

The ceremony occurred in black suit coats and 90-degree plus temperatures at The Tomb of the Unknowns. It followed the 144th Memorial Day Observance in the Cemetery’s Memorial hitheater. Manager of Conventions Christina Hitchcock and Manager of Communications Stuart Nelson were also present.

The observance was highlighted by music from the United States Army Band and remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and President Barack Obama.

An excerpt from General Order No. 11, issued by Army Headquarters on May 5, 1868 and included in the written program for this year’s observance, captured the spirit of the occasion:

“Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence review our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude.”

 

Bulletin Audiocassettes Now Replaced by Options

With audiocassettes fast becoming an obsolete technology after 48 years of mass production, the Spring 2012 BVA Bulletin, the organization’s most recent issue, was the final one to be mailed to BVA members using that medium.

This does not mean that the Bulletin will no longer have an audio version. Each issue will continue to be professionally recorded and made available to members via a link to an mp3 file that can be downloaded from the BVA website. Members who wish to continue listening to the Bulletin without a computer can do so through a compact disk that will be sent to them through the U.S. Postal Service. The print version will continue to be sent to members and former members unless they have requested in the past not to receive it or will do so in the future.

To assure that blinded veterans and their families receive the Bulletin in the most convenient and accessible format beyond print, it will be available through one or more of the following means:

 

Please let BVA know your preferred format via postal mail, or by emailing Bulletin editor Stuart Nelson at bva@bva.org, or by calling 800-669-7079. Those who have already requested an email version in the past and have been receiving it do not need to contact BVA National Headquarters again.

           

 

Auxiliary’s View

by Darian Slayton Fleming

 

We wish to remember Renee R. Feldman, a charter member of the BVA Auxiliary and one of the primary forces behind its inauguration and organization in 1977. We express our sadness that Renee passed away on March 30. We communicate our condolences to her family and all close to her.

 

Renee was a strong supporter of BVA and continued to believe in the purpose of BVAA to assist and promote the causes of blinded veterans and their families. Most near and dear to her, of course, was the Auxiliary’s scholarship program that bears her name in honor of her preoccupation with the program and all she contributed to it.

 

At press time for this issue of the Bulletin, recipients are being selected for the 2012-13 Feldman scholarships, a tradition we plan to continue.

 

“We miss her very much but are comforted by the assurance that her legacy continues in many ways, which includes remembering her through the Renee R. Feldman Scholarship Fund,” her son Bruce told me. I think that all of us, even those who didn’t know her well or at all, would feel the same way.

 

BVAA is gearing up for the BVA 67th National Convention. It is always a great pleasure to see our old friends and then greet members at these annual gatherings. Early registration for the convention ended June 20 and the hotel cutoff date was July 20. For those who have suddenly decided they’d like to attend, check out the information on the BVA website and get in touch with BVA National Headquarters as quickly as possible.

 

We have a full convention program and agenda all prepared to implement! Our silent auction is always fun. If you or your regional group can contribute an item or items to this project, please bring them with you. Proceeds from this tradition go to the Feldman scholarships. BVAA cookbooks will also be available again. In addition, we will elect officers at our Thursday morning business meeting. Please be thinking about who you wish to see occupy these important positions and then get their permission to nominate them.

 

By popular demand, this convention will again feature a BVAA interactive discussion on the topic of helping our veterans while also helping ourselves. If you would like to serve as a panelist, please contact me (dlsfleming@gmail.com or 503-253-9543) or our National President, Patti Hail (waya@pacifier.com). If you have topics or questions you would like included, please send them also.

 

We hope that many of you out there are working on BVAA regional groups. We understand that we will be welcoming several groups this year. If things are coming together quickly for any prospective groups, please get the relevant information to Patti Hail, and to our National Secretary, Sandy Krasnodemski, as soon as possible. Feel free also to contact any of the BVAA National Officers with any questions or problems you may have.

 

We are always in need of inspirational stories or anecdotes relating to your experiences, challenges, needs, discoveries, or exciting group activities. We would love to print them in our Bulletin column, in the BVAA Star, or in the BVAA E-Star.

 

Chaplain’s Corner

by Clyde Jackson

 

Pushing for Excellence

Have you ever had a time in your life when you thought everything was over for you? This was probably due to some devastating occurrence in your life. At these , we must seek God, search our lives, and ask for wisdom to accept what has happened.

It is during these difficult that we find that God will give us direction and instruction as to how we should handle our trials. My mind often returns to the familiar refrain known as the Serenity Prayer, which states: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When things over which we have absolutely no control happen to us, we need to depend on God. To some, this may sound silly and maybe a little like a “cop out.”  If the truth be told, however, it actually requires more courage to trust in God and supplicate his help rather than moving on with our lives and attempting to make the best out of our situation on our own.

It is God who can obviously best help us to decipher what can be changed and what we must accept. I believe that we are all aware of those who become discouraged because they do not receive from God what they want when they ask it of him. Some may go as far as to discredit God and question his supernatural existence and role.

Nevertheless, we must never give up hope and we must learn to be patient. One significant thing I have learned during my sojourn on earth is that God cannot and will not be rushed in what he does. He intervenes in his own due time, not ours.

When we do become discouraged, and from time to time we will, we must have the type of relationship with God that will help us through those . We will find that God is our refuge and strength, and that he will give us the stability to go through life with a positive attitude.

I find that that the process needed for leaning on God for help, and then gaining strength from doing so, is related to the principle of mind over matter. When we decide that no situation should control our happiness, or our joy, or our emotions, we inevitably see a tremendous change.

Most people believe that I am one of the happiest persons around. This is a mystery to many who wonder how this could be possible with my physical disability. I am happy because I know that in all I do, and everywhere I go, I always strive to do my very best. Without an excuse, no physical ailment and no disability can keep me from doing what God wants me to do. No matter what mortal beings say or think, God really does want us to be the very best we can be.

It is our responsibility and calling to hold our heads high and, with God’s help, always push for excellence.      
 

 

Of Note

Research Examines TBI, Vision Dysfunction Costs    

 

Dr. Kevin D. Frick, Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has examined what he believes is the best available evidence on the incidence and cost of vision dysfunction and blindness in the U.S. military from 2000 to 2010.

 

The figures were compiled by Dr. Frick under a consulting contract with NAEVR. They have been made available through a paper entitled Costs of Military Eye Injury, Vision Impairment, and Related Blindness and Vision Dysfunction Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) without Eye Injury. The paper was released to Capitol Hill in mid-May.

 

The results reveal the high costs of ocular injuries that cause vision loss and non-ocular injuries to the brain that are now also becoming associated with vision loss. Based on the published data from 2000 to 2010, the total incident cost of eye injury each year is $2.282 billion, yielding a total cost to the economy over this timeframe of $25.107 billion.

 

For me, BVA’s Project Gemini was a remarkable and life-affirming experience that validated the importance of such studies, said NAEVR Executive Director Jim Jorkasky.

 

A copy of the paper is available from Stuart Nelson, 800-669-7079, Ext. 3316.

 

Blinded Veteran to Swim at 2012 Paralympics

           

Lieutenant Bradley Snyder, former Navy bomb defuser who last September lost both eyes in an explosion in Afghanistan, has gained a roster spot on the U.S. Paralympic team headed for London.  

 

An MSNBC story on June 22 reported the feat, which required Snyder to swim what he agreed was the race of his life on June 19.

 

To earn his slot, Snyder needed to swim at least 41 seconds faster than his previous best in his top event, the 400-meter freestyle. In the end, he swam 54 seconds faster than he ever had since losing his sight. Snyder registered a time of 4:35.62, now the current world-best time at that distance for fully blind swimmers. The time was just 1.5 seconds behind the mark he posted at that distance while swimming for the Naval Academy seven years ago when he could see the lanes, the competition, and, most significantly, the wall.

 

VA “AboutFace” Caign Offers PTSD Outreach

 

Observed in June as PTSD Awareness Month, VA’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has launched a online initiative focused on helping veterans recognize PTSD symptoms and motivating them to seek treatment.

 

AboutFace introduces viewers to veterans from all eras who have experienced PTSD and turned their lives around with treatment. Through personal videos, viewers meet veterans and hear how PTSD has affected them and their loved ones. Visitors will also learn the steps to take in order to gain control of their lives.

 

We must do all we can to help veterans identify possible indicators that they may be suffering from PTSD, said Secretary Shinseki. It requires a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to be effective and we hope that AboutFace will play an important role in that effort.

 

AboutFace is located on the National Center for PTSD website, www.ptsd.va.gov.

             

Homeless Veterans Decline

 

VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on December 13 that a national report showed a 12 percent decline in homelessness among veterans between January 2010 and January 2011.

 

The 12 percent decline keeps the Obama administration on schedule to meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

 

We’re absolutely headed in the right direction as we work to end homelessness among those who have served our nation, said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. As we put forth in the first Federal plan to prevent and end homelessness, there’s plenty of work ahead to reach our goal, but these numbers validate the work done by both HUD and VA to reach our nation’s homeless veterans and get them into permanent housing.

 

The data was extracted from the 2011 supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which indicated that 67,495 veterans were homeless in the U.S. on a single night in January 2011 a significant reduction from last year’s single night count of 76,329.

 

Videos Feature Stories of Women Vets

 

VA has released a series of four videos in which women veterans describe their experiences in the military, ranging from their important contributions to national safety and security to the challenges they faced during their service and after returning to civilian life.

 

The presentations are three to five minutes in length and are part of VA’s ongoing Rethink Veterans caign to increase awareness of women veterans and their vital roles in the nation’s history. The videos can be viewed at www.womenshealth.va.gov or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/VeteransHealthAdmin.

 

Their purpose is to increase awareness of women’s roles in the military among VA staff and the public, according to Dr. Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant of VA’s Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group. The ultimate objective is for women veterans to receive the respect, recognition, and care they deserve.

 

We’re challenging people to rethink preconceived notions about who is a veteran, what a veteran looks like, and what a woman veteran may have done or experienced while serving, she said.

 

VA Facebook Page Surpasses 200,000 Fans

 

The primary Facebook page for VA passed the 200,000 mark in early May, increasing the Department’s ability to communicate directly with veterans throughout the country.

 

We started our social media program with the vision of getting the right information to the right veteran at the right time, said Secretary Shinseki. This achievement allows us to reach a significant portion of the veteran population by sharing information that is important to them.

 

The milestone was achieved less than three years after the creation of VA’s office of online communications, which oversees all social media programs. VA has more than 150 total Facebook pages, most of which belong to individual VA Medical Centers, with a pool of subscribers reaching more than 440,000 fans. The Department also has 70 Twitter feeds, the VAntage Point blog, a YouTube channel with more than 400 videos, and a Flickr page containing more than 12,000 photos.

 

To access and connect to VA’s social media sites, visit its social media directory located at http://www.va.gov/opa/socialmedia.asp.

 

Partnership Brings Reved Website  

 

The American Foundation for the Blind and Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation have launched the VisionAware.org, a free, easy-to-use informational website for adults with vision loss, their families, caregivers, health care providers, and social service professionals.

 

The site combines two previous stand-alone resources from AFB and Partners for Sight (Senior Site and the former VisionAware, respectively) into a single, comprehensive website offering social networking and customized guidance for adults of all ages. It includes a more comprehensive set of resources than either of the two previous sites and additional practical tips on living with vision loss.

 

VA to Hire Additional Mental Health Professionals

 

Approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians and nearly 300 support staff will be added to VA’s existing workforce to help meet the increased demand for mental health services, Secretary Shinseki announced June 11.

 

The mental health and well-being of our brave men and women who have served the nation is the highest priority for this department, he said. We must ensure that all veterans seeking mental health care have access to timely, responsive, and high-quality care.

 

The announcement included details of an aggressive national mental health hiring initiative to improve recruitment and hiring, marketing, education and training programs, and retention efforts for mental health professionals, to include targeted recruitment in rural and highly rural markets.

 

 

Letters to the Editor

 

Independence and Confidence Restored Through Learning Ally

           

I am reaching out to my fellow BVA members to ask for your assistance in getting the word out to other veterans who may not be able to read this. I lost my eyesight in July 2002 while serving in the Marines. I lost a lot of independence and confidence when that happened. It took a few people to help me find my way back onto my life’s path. 

While on that journey, I discovered that the world had been designed for, and managed by, the sighted. In particular, I found academia to be nearly impossible since I could not see my textbooks!

Another veteran introduced me to a nonprofit organization that makes books accessible for veterans like me and for others with print-related disabilities. That organization is Learning Ally (formerly known as Recording for the Blind &; Dyslexic).

When I found out about the history of the organization, it really humbled me. It started in 1948 with volunteers recording books for veterans returning from World War II with visual impairment. As the GI Bill was making education possible for many, Learning Ally made it attainable for those with visual impairment.

I wanted to continue my service to veterans and give back to the organization that helped me to begin reading again. As a way to contribute to something I really believe in, I asked to represent veterans as an unpaid board member. I helped create a webpage specifically tailored for veterans who need access to Learning Ally audiobooks.

Learning Ally is a subscription service that is free. However, Congress has discontinued its funding, just as it has the funding of many national nonprofits. Learning Ally has now been forced to charge a nominal fee but, compared to the cost of purchasing individual audiobooks, the expense is minimal. In addition, a discount is offered to all veterans and their families. There are also waivers for individuals who cannot afford the service.

The effects of war leave hidden wounds far more often than they leave visible scars. It took my loss of eyesight and my attempt to attend college with a disability to realize that. The demon I see is that most folks think others have the greatest influence to effect change. They then never attempt to make their own mark and wait for others to do it all.

The reality is that ordinary people do extraordinary things. I’m asking you, therefore, to be that one person who helps other veterans find their way back by doing an extraordinarily simple thing: Pass this information along!           

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for reading it to someone who can’t, and for passing it along to someone who can impact the life of a veteran. If you don’t know someone with a print-related disability but would like to serve in a different capacity, please look at www.learningally.org for ideas and ways to help.

 

Dan Standage

Tucson, Arizona

 

Submarine vs. Destroyer

I am a retired VIST working as a volunteer for blinded vets now. Reading the Spring 2012 BVA Bulletin, I noticed that the credit for the cover photo says it is a picture of a Gato class fleet submarine.

In actual fact, the picture is of a Destroyer Escort- DE 238. (I don’t know the name of that specific DE.) I thought I would write as an “armchair historian” of World War II since it may be difficult for your World War II vets to make out the picture! I love keeping up on BVA and look forward to the Bulletin when I receive it.

 

Gus McClelland

Topeka, Kansas

 

Editor’s Note: The error you point out is a most interesting but frustrating one. We took the photo, identified as the USS Cavalla, directly from the Galveston Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau photo gallery. Our description of the Cavalla as a Gato class submarine came after consultation with other sources that did not include another photo. As much as we’d like to place responsibility on the convention bureau, ultimate responsibility rests with our editing. We could have looked a little more closely at the photo to see that the Destroyer Escort pictured on the cover is clearly not a submarine! The ship is, in fact, the USS Stewart, named after Rear Admiral Charles Stewart. It is located in Galveston’s Seawolf Park near the Cavalla. We regret the error and sincerely thank Gus and other BVA members who called or emailed to let us know about it.

 

Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans and More

I delivered a Dell Computer with Zoom Text and all of the associated hardware to a young person in Staunton, Virginia yesterday. She is an eighth grader in the middle school there. She also received a Merlin CCTV.

I received this equipment from Judy Allen, who lives in Virginia’s Chesterfield County. Her husband, Bill Allen, is a World War II veteran. Until he entered a nursing facility recently, he was using the items. Both Bill and Judy wanted to get them to someone who could make good use of them. After meeting the student and her grandmother, I was assured that they would be very helpful to the young lady. She was very excited about having her own computer and also the CCTV.

Kenneth Carr, one of our members in the Richmond Chapter of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, also donated a CCTV that he was not using to the Rappahannock Central Regional Library near Fredericksburg. He also donated some books to the library. The CCTV will be available to anyone who comes to the library and needs to magnify library materials.

We are blinded veterans helping blinded veterans but we can still help everyone else. Donating items that can be of use elsewhere can encourage young and old alike to build hope and confidence in their futures. If you have equipment or low-vision items that you no longer use, or if you know of a family of a veteran who has passed away, please donate the equipment so someone else can use it.

 

Herb Patterson

Sandston, Virginia

                                                                                                           

 

In Remembrance

 

The Blinded Veterans Association deeply regrets the deaths of the following blinded veterans.

 

Alabama R.G.

Joseph W. Ham

 

Arkansas R.G.

Nicholas H. Bollen

 

Central California R.G.

Billie D. Camren

Albert N. Hernandez


Florida R.G.

Eldon Beach

John F. Caperton, Jr.

James P. Enos

Robert C. Green

Garland Hardin

Robert J. Hazleton

Robert Hermanns

Bert B. Hollingsworth

Andrew L. James

Lawrence V. Mandarino

Donald J. McCarten

Edward J. O’Connell

Leo Satz

Irving Siegel

Edwin Turner

 

Illinois R.G.

Francis D. Gress

Carlos Hawkins

 

Indiana R.G.

Joe Black

 

Louisiana R.G.

Larry J. Franklin

 

Massachusetts R.G.

Joseph G. Broadbent

 

Mississippi R.G.

Nicholas R. Stevens

 

Jersey R.G.

Albert J. Dowdney

 

Mexico R.G.

George H. Hudson

Albert A. Mantes

 

York R.G.

David Kimball

 

North Carolina R.G.

Harold T. Clayton

Kenneth W. Gatewood

John K. Saunders

Kenneth M. Slate

 

Northern Arizona R.G.

James C. Patterson

 

Northern California R.G.

Joy M. Harris

Irvin Hart

Joyce M. Monks

 

Ohio R.G.

Jesse A. Palagyi
Frederick Taft

David A. Wargo

 

O-K-I R.G.

Robert Glazier

 

Oregon Columbia R.G.

Glen R. Wynandts

 

Pennsylvania R.G.

Clyde R. Friend

Bruce B. Navarre

Richard E. Vowles

 

Puerto Rico R.G.

Jose A. Cruz Lopez

Nestor Cruz Soto

 

Rocky Mountain R.G.

Harry C. Carpenter

Raymond C. Hinz

Melvin Poundstone

Frank G. Steinbach

 

San Diego R.G.

Pearl Strauss

 

South Texas R.G.

James Glenn Bumstead

Paul E. Vied

 

Southern Arizona R.G.

Charles F. Manley

 

Southern California R.G.

Madge R. Lilliquist

 

Spokane Inland Empire R.G.

Dennis G. Stamey

 

Washington R.G.

Allen Patchett

Terry L. Holmes

Mary Stewart

 

Western Mountaineer R.G.

Dean M. Fasnacht

 

 

Final Thought

 

Regardless of what country you live in, we’re one Band of Brothers, declared Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Dexter Durrante, pictured here during his participation in Project Gemini May 20-26. The program is an exchange initiative between BVA and Blind Veterans UK that brought American and British blinded veterans together in the United Kingdom.

 

We have some of the same challenges to endure but we are stronger when we stick together, Dexter asserted.

 

On each side of Dexter are Blind Veterans UK Director of Recreation and Sports Events Louise Timms, left, and Esther Freeman.

 

 

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