VA and SSA Partner To Speed Up Disability Decisions For Veterans (11/9/2016) 
   VA and SSA Partner To Speed Up Disability Decisions For Vets

VA and SSA Partner To Speed Up Disability Decisions For Veterans


WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) launched a new Health IT initiative that enables VA to share medical records electronically with social security disability processors. This secure process will save time and money resulting in better service for Veterans and dependents who apply for social security disability benefits. The SSA requests nearly 15 million medical records from health care organizations yearly to make medical decisions on about three million disability claims. For decades, SSA obtained medical records through a manual process. This new national initiative puts in place an automated process to obtain Veterans’ medical records entirely electronically.

“VA’s partnership with Social Security will ultimately improve the quality of life for Veterans and their dependents by enabling Veterans to share their health information within a safe and secure health-related consumer application,” said Dr. David Shulkin, VA’s Under Secretary for Health.

The joint venture is expected to significantly speed up social security disability decisions, utilizing VA’s VLER Health Exchange under the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Program. The VLER Health Exchange gives VA and participating community providers the ability to retrieve Veterans’ health information from each other for the purpose of treatment. Currently, VLER Health Exchange shares health data with over 79 community health care partners, representing 775 Hospitals, 427 Federally Qualified Health Centers, 142 Nursing Homes, 8441 Pharmacies and over 11,969 Clinics. The SSA now has access for the purpose of processing benefits for Veterans and their dependents.

"This SSA-VA partnership is another example of VA’s leadership in interoperability efforts among federal partners,” said VA Secretary, Robert McDonald. “Increasing federal partnerships to improve operation and resource coordination across agencies is among VA’s 12 Breakthrough Priorities for 2016.”

VA has partnership agreements with Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Treasury (DOT) among many others.

To learn more about VA health care visit: www.va.gov/health


 British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Eve (10/3/2016) 
   British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event

British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event


(IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, October 3, 2016) -- Three war blinded American veterans and two British Army war-blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California.

They will spend five days together in activities associated with the golf event and will visit local attractions. Specifically, the group will join golfers for the annual competition to honor Major Rob Soltes on Monday, October 10, at the Oak Creek Golf Club. In October 2004, Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq.

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) is a non-profit Veterans Service Organization that uses funds raised at the tournament for its Operation Peer Support (OPS) initiative, which supports various events during the year. OPS brings together Gulf War I and Gulf War II blinded veterans to share experiences. Together they also learn about rehabilitation opportunities, technology, and the benefits they have earned as a result of their service. They also participate in various sports events for the disabled throughout the year.

The tournament veterans include U.S. veterans who suffered eye injuries in combat: Master Sergeant Eric Marts, Army First Sergeant Dan Wallace, and Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, all of whom are Iraq War blinded veterans. Major Thomas Zampieri is a BVA member who participates in planning the annual event. There are 5,000 men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by severe penetrating eye injuries. In addition, nearly 55,000 individuals in the VA health care system have TBI vision system impairments.

Others participating from the UK will be British Army Corporals Robert Long, Chris Nowell, and 21-year Army veteran Mark Hollis, current Director of Recreation Therapy at Blind Veterans UK. Each May, Zampieri and other OPS veterans travel to the UK for a weeklong exchange known as Project Gemini, now in its sixth year and which is most often conducted in the London area. The Gulf War I and Gulf War II era vets share their stories with their UK comrades who lost their sight while serving in the Gulf War or other global conflicts.

The U.S. and UK veterans’ goals are to develop public awareness within the two nations regarding vision loss, vision trauma research, and recovery. The BVA mission, which has lasted now 71 years, is “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans.” The organization seeks to connect veterans with vision loss and their families more closely to their local communities and to encourage them to participate in recreational activities (visit BVA.org), both of which bring a sense of independence and additional meaning to their lives.

BVA officials and tournament participants will be available for interviews and photos on October 9, or during the day of the golf event on October 10. For more information about the tournament and the day’s activities onsite, please contact Tom Clarke at tom@soltesmemorial.com or Tom Zampieri at 301-204-3291. For additional general information about the event, visit Soltes Memorial.


 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, was brought about by seven years of BVA advocacy. It gives 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. This 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. 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 these 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.


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