Blinded Vets Revel in Milestone, Reflect on Future Challenges

Members of the Blinded Veterans Association across a spectrum that now spans 65 years joined together with their families, the organization’s national staff, vendors, presenters, and other friends for a lightning-quick week of urgent Association business, presentations on technology and aids for the blind, an exhibit hall of more than 45 booths, and visits to historical sites, museums, and special programs.

It all took place August 24-28, 2010 at Arlington, Virginia’s Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel just across the Potomac River from our Nation’s Capital and BVA’s National Headquarters building in the Chinatown District of the city. Several convention attendees made their way to check out the historic building.


Left to right, World War II veterans Paul Guzman, Ted Noddin, Jack Shapiro, and Peter McKenna gather at Convention Awards Banquet for ceremonial cake cutting in commemoration of BVA’s 65th anniversary.


Left to right, Massachusetts blinded veterans Randy Durrigan (Vietnam era), Cliff Fisher, and Earl Caudill. The latter two both served in World War II and attended a BVA National Convention for the first time.

The 357 total convention attendees, of which 147 were BVA members, were joined down the hall and throughout hotel guest facilities by a similar gathering of approximately 370 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehabilitation Service officials who were simultaneously attending their own annual conference and using every available opportunity to check out the BVA exhibit hall.

“This convention is still one more BVA milestone that links veterans of today with those of yesteryear,” said BVA Executive Director Tom Miller. “Considering the challenges with which BVA has been faced during those 65 years, its longevity and continued ability to serve blinded veterans become increasingly significant with each passing year.”

Convention festivities also featured the traditional National President’s Reception and the Father Carroll Luncheon, highlighted by guest speaker Raymond Hazan, President of St Dunstan’s, BVA’s sister organization in The United Kingdom. Attendees of both the BVA convention and the VA BRS conference were treated at Wednesday morning’s Opening Business Session to stirring addresses from Assistant Marine Commandant General James Amos and White House Special Assistant for Disability Affairs Kareem Dale.

Left to right, World War II veterans Paul Guzman, Ted Noddin, Jack Shapiro, and Peter McKenna gather at Convention Awards Banquet for ceremonial cake cutting in commemoration of BVA’s 65th anniversary.
Left to right, World War II veterans Paul Guzman, Ted Noddin, Jack Shapiro, and Peter McKenna gather at Convention Awards Banquet for ceremonial cake cutting in commemoration of BVA’s 65th anniversary.

Loyal Gene Apple of the Regional Group was this year’s recipient of the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement. Dennis O’Connell of the New York Regional Group received the Irving Diener Award for outstanding service to his regional group while Robert Keller, San Diego Regional Group, received the David L. Schnair Award for extraordinary voluntary service.

The Florida Regional Group retained the Golden Gavel Award for the fourth consecutive year. The gavel is presented to the regional group with the greatest increase in number of members for the previous fiscal year. The Silver Gavel Award, measured by the greatest percentage increase in membership, went to the Cape Cod and Islands Regional Group, one of BVA’s two most recently organized groups.

Convention delegates passed three new proposed bylaw amendments. Two other amendments proposed by the Association’s National Board of Directors failed to pass. The convention floor also voted to approve the first 17 proposed resolutions as a block and then approved an additional two, totaling 19. The National President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer will complete the second year of their two-year terms of office by unanimous approval of a vote cast by National Secretary Mark Cornell during the proceedings.

Sam Huhn’s election as Vice President at last year’s convention in Portland, Oregon, left a vacancy in the directorship of District 3. Neil Appleby, Pennsylvania Regional Group, filled the position on an interim basis for one year. Joe Parker of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, was elected July 20, 2010 to fill the position for a full three-year term of office.

The Board also re-appointed Neftali Sanchez, Southern Nevada Regional Group, as BVA National Chaplain and asked Sandra Niccum, Southern Nevada Regional Group, to serve as National Sergeant-at-Arms for the upcoming fiscal year.

As part of BVA’s ongoing Operation Peer Support initiative, the Convention hosted 12 U.S. service members who haf lost their sight in recent combat operations in the Middle East or as a result of health complications. They were accompanied by a spouse and/or other family members. Nine previous Operation Peer Support convention participants returned for a second or third year on their own, among them British blinded service members Ben Shaw and Simon Brown.

The BVA 66th National Convention will occur at The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tentative dates for the gathering are set for August 16-20, 2011. Additional highlights and details of the historic 65th Convention, as well as plans for next year, will be recapped in the soon-to-be released Autumn 2010 BVA Bulletin. The issue will be available on approximately November 1. In addition to its online availability on the BVA website’s Bulletin page, the publication is produced in audio format for BVA members only. Print version and email copies are available upon request of Stuart Nelson, BVA Bulletin editor, snelson@bva.org.