Landmark Legislation To Expand Blinded Veteran Access to Rehabilitation Services (9/29/2016) 
   Landmark Legislation To Expand Blinded Veteran Access to Rehabilitation Services

Landmark Legislation To Expand Blinded Veteran Access to Rehabilitation Services


The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) today praised the bi-partisan effort in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to avoid a government shutdown that has also resulted in the passage of key legislation for veterans with vision loss.

The legislation, a Continuing Resolution that extends current government funding levels until December 9, ends seven years of BVA advocacy during three sessions of Congress to give the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the statutory authority to provide travel benefits to catastrophically disabled, nonservice- connected blind and visually impaired veterans seeking rehabilitation services at VA facilities. The legislation applies similarly to amputees and individuals with spinal cord injuries.

The original intent of the two bills, introduced in the current 114th congress as H.R. 288 and S. 171 in early 2015, was that Congress amend Title 38, Section 111 of the U.S. Code to extend eligibility for assistance with the cost of travel to specialized rehabilitation centers to veterans whose disabilities are catastrophic but not “service connected”. These bills were introduced by Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA-26) and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).

The aforementioned bills had numerous co-sponsors among both Democrats and Republicans when the Senate bill was incorporated into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations bill passed by the Senate earlier this year. Senator Tester was then able to include the appropriations bill in the Continuing Resolution, which will provide full-year funding for veterans initiatives and military construction projects through September 30, 2017.

BVA Executive Director Al Avina emphasized the significance of the legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama before the end of the week.

"The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Tester for his recognition of the value of rehabilitation services for catastrophically disabled veterans and his commitment to ensuring that those who need such services the most have access to them,” he said. “This legislation will make it possible for a greater number of the brave men and women who have served our country to have access to the rehabilitation and care they need to live full and independent lives again, and it fills a vital need in a fiscally responsible manner by reducing the veterans' need for assisted living and nursing home care."

BVA Director of Government Relations Melanie Brunson echoed similar sentiments.

“We owe tremendous thanks to Senator Tester and Representative Brownley for their staunch support for veterans with catastrophic disabilities. Senator Tester’s leadership ensured that provisions allowing VA to assist such veterans with the cost of travel to and from specialized rehabilitation centers were included in the bill passed by the Senate, and remained in the legislation reported out by House and Senate conferees."

For more information about the legislation or how it might impact you, please contact Director of Governmental Relations Melanie Brunson at the organization’s National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, or mbrunson@bva.org.


 BVA Bylaw Amendment Temporarily Reduces Life Membership Dues (9/1/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Bylaw Amendment Temporarily Reduces Life Membership Dues

Blinded Veterans Association BVA Bylaw Amendment Temporarily Reduces Life Membership Dues


Delegates appointed by their respective regional groups to the 71st National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) voted August 26 overwhelmingly in favor of adopting a bylaw amendment offering life membership to all blinded veterans at a discounted rate of $20.

The amendment will be effective from September 1, 2016 through and including August 1, 2017.

First submitted by the Association’s Membership Committee to its Bylaws and Resolutions Committee, which met August 24 at the convention site in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the amendment was recommended for passage and submitted to the full convention delegation for consideration two days later in its Closing Business Session.

Included in the amendment is the temporary suspension of annual membership and annual dues during that same time period. Veterans who are current Paying to Life Members or Paying to Associate Life Members may also participate in the dues initiative with the one-time payment in full of $20.

Bylaws prior to the amendment stipulated that annual dues were $15 per year and Life

Membership dues were determined by age categories. Within these categories the youngest age group was paying $100 and the oldest $50 for a life membership.

“Our organization needs to think outside the box and figure out a way to provide an immediate incentive to make it easier to get blind veterans to join as Life or Associate Life Members,” the proposed bylaw change justification stated. “It is evident more now than ever that BVA needs to come up with some real incentives for blind veterans to join BVA.”

Justification for submission of the amendment also included a commitment to disseminate information about the reduced membership dues in regional group newsletters, communications originating with Visual Impairment Services Team Coordinators, the Association’s bimonthly BVA Bulletin, and other relevant medium

“It is our hope that this bylaw amendment will inspire the some 48,000 blind veterans throughout the VA Health Care System to immediately join BVA.”

As part of the application process, the promotional membership application form sent to BVA must be accompanied by the following items on official Department of Veterans Affairs letterhead or through Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST)/Veterans Health Administration examination notes:

  • Branch of Service
  • Beginning and Ending Dates of Services
  • Name of VIST Coordinator
  • Confirmation of meeting standards of blindness as follows—
  • ICD-9-CM Diagnosis Code 369.4 legal blindness, or
  • Visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye with corrective lenses, or
  • Visual field restriction to 20 degrees diameter or less in the better eye.

For more information about the bylaw amendment or BVA membership, please contact Membership Coordinator Cecilia Montenegro at the organization’s National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, Ext. 315, or cmontenegro@bva.org.


 Milwaukee Convention Hosts Vision Technology, Rehabilitation, Consumer Protection Experts (8/26/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Milwaukee Convention Hosts Vision Technology, Rehabilitation, Consumer Protection Experts

Milwaukee Convention Hosts Vision Technology, Rehabilitation, Consumer Protection Experts


Four leading authorities on emerging vision rehabilitation, consumer protection of veterans, retinal research, and other technological advances affecting the blind and visually impaired spoke in a forum setting on Thursday, August 25 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

The forum, which ran from 8:30 a.m. until Noon in the hotel’s Regency Ballroom, is one of several educational components of the Blinded Veterans Association’s 71st National Convention. The August 22-26 gathering features organizational business meetings, social events, and an Exhibit Hall open to the public.

Forum speakers were The Honorable Dr. David J. Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Thomas B. Connor, Jr., MD, professor of ophthalmology and a retinal specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin Eye Institute; Tony Camili of the Consumer Financial Protection Board; and Kelly Egan, Customer Relationship Manager for Sprint focusing on services and telecommunications technology to the blind and low-vision community.

BVA’s membership of 8,500 includes blinded veterans from the BVA of Wisconsin Regional Group, one of 52 groups nationwide. All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help one another understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government and encourages all blinded veterans to participate in VA blind rehabilitation programs.

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 62 years.

Eligibility for assistance does not require that a veteran’s blindness be service connected. 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 organization’s website at bva.org.


 Greenfield Blinded Veteran Addresses Traditional Luncheon at National Convention (8/25/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Greenfield Blinded Veteran Addresses Traditional Luncheon at National Convention

Greenfield Blinded Veteran Addresses Traditional Luncheon at National Convention


John J. Carter, President of the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) Wisconsin Regional Group and most recently the group’s Judge Advocate, will address the organization’s Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon on Thursday, August 26, in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel.

The luncheon is an annual event at BVA’s convention, now in its 71st year. The event honors the organization’s National Chaplain who served from 1946 until his unexpected death in 1971. Father Carroll is considered a pioneer and historic figure of epic proportions in the field of blind rehabilitation for his writings and work directly with the blind that began during World War II with the return of service members who had been blinded in combat.

Carter served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. After receiving an honorable discharge, he went on to become a Patrol Officer with the Milwaukee Police Department. He retired from the force due to disability when a sniper’s shotgun blast left him totally blind.

Not allowing his disability to stand in his way, he attended St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in 1968. He later graduated from Marquette University in three years at a time when there were few accommodations for the blind and visually impaired. He went on to receive a law degree from Marquette in 1974 and accumulated more than 40 years of trial experience in both criminal and civil cases. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Association of Developmental Disabilities and the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children, Inc. He has also been a member of the Supreme Court Interdisciplinary Committee on Court-Related Needs of the Elderly and People with Disabilities.

Father Carroll, for whom the event is named, was himself the featured luncheon speaker for the organization 21 times between 1946 and 1971. Throughout his service he was considered a friend, an advisor, and a spiritual leader. Throughout his life he worked to bridge the significant divide between war and civilian blind.

Carter’s address will be one of several highlights of the gathering, which occurs August 22-26. Some 100 blinded veterans and an additional 200 family members, exhibitors, presenters, and friends of BVA will participate in the five-day gathering.


 High Tech Visual Aids Exhibit Highlights Blinded Veteran Convention (8/22/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA High Tech Visual Aids Exhibit Highlights Blinded Veteran Convention

High-Tech Visual Aids Exhibit Highlights Blinded Veterans Convention

Devices that allow Internet surfing by speech, low-vision simulators, audible money identifiers and scanners, medical alarms and two-way emergency communicators, video magnifiers, mobility aids and guide dogs for independent living, and audible Global Positioning System products all take center stage in an exhibit hall at the Milwaukee Convention Center August 23-24.

The high-tech displays, located in Room 102 of the Convention Center, will reveal both old and new adaptive devices for both the totally blind and the visually impaired. The exhibit hall is among the most anticipated events and features of the 71st National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), which runs August 22-26 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel and Convention Center.

Advances in technology continue to offer the blind and visually impaired opportunities to enjoy a higher quality of life, helping them live and work independently in increasingly innovative ways. During visits to the exhibit hall, BVA members, blind rehabilitation specialists from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the general public will have opportunities to see, feel, and test the new equipment. Representatives from the various industries, which also include several companies offering guide dog services, will answer questions and provide detailed explanations and demonstrations.

Hours of the exhibit hall are 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. on both August 23 and 24. The public is invited and encouraged to attend with no admission charge. Additional information about the Blinded Veterans Association and its services to blinded veterans is available at bva.org.


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