Greater Heights Envisioned At Albuquerque Gathering
by Stuart Nelson
“This was our first convention and it was a memorable one indeed,” said Alabama Regional Group President Donald Blackburn as he and his wife, Betty, shuttled to the Albuquerque Sunport for their return trip to Pelham, Alabama. “I hope there will be many more for us in the future.”
Don was one of 157 blinded veterans and Betty one of 391 total registrants attending the BVA 62nd National Convention August 14-18.
“We appreciate all of the ways that this convention has motivated us and the opportunities we had to learn from one another,” said Carol Fox, wife of Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Group Secretary Dave Fox. “The big highlight for us was the attendance of the servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Dave and Carol’s adult daughter, Emily, also attended the convention, offering her services as a volunteer at the beginning of the week and helping out as assigned during each of the five convention days. Emily’s willingness to serve and her extra-mile efforts reflected the sacrifices and single-minded dedication offered by all of the volunteers, the Hyatt Regency staff, the BVA staff, and members of the host regional group in making the convention a success. Special thanks, as always, goes to Assistant Convention Coordinator Larry Martinez and Elena Martinez, Sam and Anita Ayoob, and Dawna Johnson.
BVA’s 62nd National Convention was also highlighted by extensive media coverage, both locally in the Albuquerque area and on the national level. Assisted by the pitching of stories from a variety of angles by National Industries for the Blind (NIB), both BVA and NIB garnered additional attention and recognition through the attendance of OIF/OEF personnel and the speech by renowned ABC Reporter Bob Woodruff.
Stories appeared almost daily in The Albuquerque Journal. Local television stations and The Albuquerque Tribune also covered the convention and related human interest stories such as the Thursday skydive. In addition, correspondents from National Public Radio and the Associated Press visited the convention and conducted interviews prior to Bob Woodruff’s Friday Father Carroll Luncheon address.
Second Running for Operation Peer Support
Generous support of Operation Peer Support for the second consecutive year by Health Net Federal Services and Genentech made convention participation possible for 18 blinded OIF/OEF service personnel and the guest of their choice. Additional major support came from the Allergan Foundation, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, National Industries for the Blind, and the American Optometric Association.
“Our guests were most grateful for the chance to attend the convention,” said Tom Zampieri. “We can never be overly effusive in extending our thanks to those who have made this possible.”
Other contributions to Operation Peer Support’s most recent efforts came from the Dale R. and Ruth L. Michels Family Foundation, the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute, Northern Illinois Clinical Labs, the Pennsylvania Regional Group, and Rivers Group LLC.
“Many of the OIF and OEF service members provided feedback and made recommendations on how we could improve Operation Peer Support leading up to the 63rd National Convention,” said Tom. “We sincerely hope to build on the program, using our experiences this year to bring even more of our brave servicemen and women next year.”
Activities for the group included a private briefing with Secretary Nicholson prior to his Wednesday keynote speech at the opening business session. An afternoon breakout session featured topics such as guide dog schools, talking book programs, and NIB employment programs. OEF blinded veteran and BVA member Steve Beres, Michigan Regional Group, participated in a panel discussion presented by NIB. Steve is the organization’s National Manager of Community Outreach Programs.
Steve Beres receives warm welcome back to earth from daughter Delaney, 7, and guide dog Lana following 10,000-foot skydive.
“I may have lost my sight but I haven’t lost my vision,” he told the group. Steve also described the professional and personal opportunities he has had since being blinded.
BVA’s own Urban Miyares, accomplished entrepreneur and president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association, also addressed employment issues. Urban is a member of the San Diego Regional Group and a former BVA Director of District 4.
NIB hosted a Wednesday evening dinner for OIF/OEF personnel, their guests, and a few BVA staff members. The Friday evening Operation Peer Support barbecue for the entire convention body was also held to honor the service of the OIF/OEF guests.
Still another highlight for three of the Operation Peer Support participants and Christina Hitchcock was a Thursday tandem leap from a small plane some 10,500 feet above the Belen, New Mexico Airport, located 35 miles south of Albuquerque. The jumps took place courtesy of “Skydive New Mexico.”
“There are really no words to describe this,” said an emotional Mike Jernigan as he was interviewed for a local television news segment immediately after the jump. “I was pretty relaxed and calm until that door opened and we prepared to jump out.”
Mike and instructor Adam Buckner experienced their free fall for 31 seconds until the parachute opened at 4,770 feet. Their fastest drop speed was 146 miles per hour and the slowest was 131. Parachute time in descent was approximately six minutes.
“It was just an awesome, amazingly interesting feeling and experience that I wish I could have seen,” he said.
The full cadre of Operation Peer Support attendees were: Kenny Adams accompanied by mother Frances Adams; Joe Bogart; Ivan Castro and Evelyn Galvis;Readen Armond Clavier and Hester Rehuher; John Crabtree and wife Marshell; Travis Fugate; Michael Jernigan and Lislie Green; Tanya Jones and mother Mary Johnson; Tim Maxwell and mother Linda Maxwell;Glenn Minney and Gretchen Thacker; Alan Osmunsonand Tamara Givens; Christopher Paiser and wife Mary;Brian Pearce and wife Angela; Nicholas Popadich, wife April, and son Nick, Jr.; Manuel Rivas and Gloria Rivas (sister); Angie Strotz; Jason Waterhouse and wife Suzetta; and Casmiri Werda.
Nicholson Highlights Opening Session
“My main mission to all of you in coming here is to thank you for what you have done, what you are now doing, what you have endured, and to salute you and your family with great admiration,” said Secretary Nicholson at the convention’s opening business session.
VA Secretary R. James Nicholson before a packed room of blinded veterans, families, and staff of VA Blind Rehabilitation Service.
Speaking to a standing-room only crowd of approximately 525 blinded veterans, their families, VA employees, and the press, Nicholson addressed VA efforts to treat two of the signature injuries of OIF and OEF veterans—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“There should be no stigmas attached to these conditions,” he said. “They are a common reaction to a very uncommon experience that these men and women have just gone through.”
Nicholson praised VA employees for their unwavering dedication to helping veterans. Using Hurricane Katrina and the evacuation of the Gulf Coast medical centers following the hurricane as his example, Nicholson said that not a single veteran life nor medical record or history was lost in the transporting of tens of thousands of veterans in the area.
“That to me epitomizes the kind of people at VA with whom I’ve had the privilege of working. They have a true compassion for veterans—that’s why they are there and that’s why I’ve enjoyed the honor of this job so tremendously.”
Nicholson’s speech was followed by brief remarks by Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), who touched on issues of legislative concern to BVA. John Garcia, who is both President of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services, also addressed the session.
The meeting started with a Civil War version of the National Anthem rendered by the New Mexico Territorial Brass Band. The colors were posted by the Santo Domingo Native American Veterans.
Exhibits Demonstrate Recent Tech Advances
The spacious convention exhibit hall housed some 40 participating organizations with neatly displayed products and/or explanations of services for the blind and visually impaired. The hall was just steps from most of the BVA meeting rooms, VIST/BROS meetings, the registration desk, and the convention office.
Several major events highlighted activity in the exhibit hall. Immediately after set-up, a Happy Hour wine and cheese reception designed to attract VA Blind Rehabilitation Service officials to the exhibits was held early Monday evening. On Tuesday, box lunches were made available within the hall to VA personnel courtesy of the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. A similar box lunch affair, this one sponsored by EVAS, was provided to BVA members on Wednesday.
Other exhibitors who supported convention events include K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., and LS&S Group, the latter of which provided funding for this year’s President’s Reception.
The remaining exhibiting organizations were: AGA, LLC; American Printing House for the Blind; America’s Vet Dogs, VA K-9 Corps, Inc.; Blind and Vision Services of Pittsburgh; Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired; Diagnostic Devices, Inc.; Enabling Technologies; Enhanced Vision; En-Vision America, Inc.; Eschenbach Optik of America; Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind; Freedom Scientific Blind-Low Vision Group; GW Micro, Inc.; Guerilla Technologies; Guiding Eyes for the Blind; HumanWare; In-Touch Graphics, Inc.; Independent Living Aids; Integration Technologies Group, Inc.; ISAC, Inc.; Leader Dogs for the Blind; LevelStar, LLC; MagniSight, Inc.; Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind; Maxi-Aids; National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; Neuro Vision Technology; Ocutech, Inc; Optelec; Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic; School of Piano Technology for the Blind; Serotek Corporation; Talking Tabs; VA Research and Development; and VetDogs.
Warmth, Hospitality in “Land of Enchantment”
“The opportunity to experience so much of New Mexico on the Tuesday tour was one I’m glad I didn’t miss,” said Dennis O’Connell, New York Regional Group. “Those responsible for arranging it in New Mexico deserve extra thanks for providing us such a great time.”
The trip to which Dennis referred took convention attendees to Jamez Mountain Trail, Los Alamos, and Chimayo. A similar “Meet Albuquerque” tour on Thursday included stops at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and Old Town. A Native American Arts and Crafts Fair, arranged by the regional group and sponsored by the Santo Domingo Pueblo’s Native American Disabled Veterans, occurred Thursday-Saturday across the street in Civic Plaza. The fair consisted of on-stage entertainment and some of New Mexico’s finest traditional and contemporary jewelry, pottery, and other crafts.
Typical of the “Land of Enchantment,” the warm welcome was accompanied by five days of desert heat in the mid-90s, a sky filled with nothing but sunshine, and comfortably cool nights.
Maino, Lundgren Address Forum
“Despite the many challenges you all face, there is no better time to be a blinded veteran,” declared Joe Maino, Chief of VA’s VICTORS (Visual Impairment Center to Optimize Remaining Sight) Low Vision Program.
Speaking to BVA members and spouses at the convention’s Friday Forum, Maino emphasized VA’s position on the cutting edge of vision rehabilitation technology research and development.
“VA is definitely the place to be when it comes to blindness and low vision,” he said. “As long as funding continues, such as the recent $40 million authorization from Congress, we will continue to see relevant research advances.”
Maino said blinded veterans more productively utilize their VA-issued, low-vision devices than other veteran populations receiving assisted living items. He also emphasized the importance of visual field blindness and contrast sensitivity in addition to visual acuity, the latter of which is often mistakenly assumed to be the only criteria for evaluating sight loss.
The second half of the Forum session featured Dr. Alston R. Lundgren, a practicing family physician from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has integrated medical acupuncture into his practice of treating the entire body. Lundgren’s Santa Fe Eye Protocol to Reverse the Vision Loss of Macular Degeneration is a four-fold eye treatment. The program has reportedly resulted in measurable improvements in vision of approximately 85 percent of his patients with either Wet or Dry Advanced Macular Degeneration.
Woodruff Speech Leaves Indelible Mark
“If you can’t see, get out there and ski,” said Bob Woodruff in his Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon address Friday afternoon.
Speaking to some 400 convention attendees, guests, and members of the media, Woodruff emphasized the importance of doing the things one has a passion for, even if they are done in ways that are a little out of the norm.
Bob Woodruff takes time to sign autographs and speak personally with convention attendees following Father Carroll Luncheon address
“There are so many things in life that we must do under circumstances that are different from what we originally thought they’d be,” he said, using his own experience as a model.
“I was an anchor for ABC News for a full 27 days! Although I can no longer do that type of work, some things in my life that have changed are better and I can do a type of reporting that never would have been opened up to me otherwise.”
Woodruff recounted the speed with which he and his photographer were transported approximately a mile on the ground and subsequently airlifted by helicopter to medical care immediately after being wounded. He was in quality care within two hours and back at Bethesda Naval Medical Center within 72 hours, where he would spend the next 36 days.
“I’ve heard from those involved in airlifting us that a commander radioed the helicopter pilots telling them not to land at that time because of heavy gunfire,” he said. “The pilots leaned over, turned off the radio, and ignored the message in order to save our lives.”
Woodruff expressed gratitude for the caliber of individuals serving in the current military who constantly enter danger to save the lives of others. He believes a similar injury in New York City would never have received the same care and attention.
“If you understand who these people are and what they are about, you care more deeply than ever before about those who are involved in all of this,” he said. “Those pilots had no idea at the time who I was—if I was a contractor, a journalist, or in some type of military capacity—but the only thing important to them was that we needed help quickly.”
Be It Resolved!
A total of 54 resolutions were originally submitted to the BVA membership for consideration on the convention floor at the closing business session. Of those, 34 were voted on and approved as a block since they had been approved in previous years. An additional 18 of 20 proposed resolutions were approved by convention attendees and delegates, bringing the total number passed to 52.
The new resolutions passed at the 62nd National Convention have been uploaded to the BVA website.
BVA Board and Officer Update
Elections for six positions on the Board of Directors were held during the months leading up to the convention, or at the convention itself. Four of the six elections—for National President, Vice President, Secretary, and Director of District 4—did not have an opposing candidate.
The following National Officers were elected for two-year terms of office. The President, Vice President, and Secretary were each elected by one unanimous vote cast by the National Secretary in the closing business session.
President – Dr. Norman Jones, Jr., Georgia Regional Group
Vice President – Dr. Sidney Ordway, South Texas Regional Group
Secretary – Ronald White, New York Regional Group
Treasurer – Dr. Roy Kekahuna, Silver State Regional Group
District Directors elected for full three-year terms are:
Director of District 3–Sam Huhn, Pennsylvania Regional Group (opposed by Clyde Compton)
Director of District 4–Dr. Roy Kekahuna, Silver State Regional Group (uncontested)
Dr. Roy Kekahuna resigned his position as Director of District 4 shortly after being declared the uncontested winner of the spring 2007 election. The Board accordingly appointed Robert “Dale” Stamper of the Inland Empire Regional Group as the interim Director. A special election for this position and the two remaining years in its term will be held in the spring of 2008.
The National Board of Directors also re-appointed The Reverend Neftali Sanchez of the Silver State Regional Group for his 29th consecutive year as BVA National Chaplain and named Mike Kanitsch of the Northern Arizona Regional Group as this year’s National Sergeant-At-Arms.
Newly elected National Treasurer Kekahuna was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a combat-disabled Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army, having enlisted in June 1957 as a Private E-1 and retiring as an officer 14 years later. Roy worked for five years as a sales trainer for Sun Life of Canada and for 15 years as a director of 11 divisions in the Morale Welfare & Recreation Directorate for different military installations of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and NATO. He later owned and presided over RWKK & Associates, a San Diego-based manufacturing representative specializing in government sales and contracting. Roy has earned two bachelors degrees, two masters degrees, and a Ph.D. in sports psychology. In addition to his BVA membership, he is a life member of five other VSOs and the Elks. He served as a District Director during 2004-07 and is a former San Diego Regional Group Secretary and Treasurer. He has been an active VA Medical Center volunteer and a coach/advisor in youth sports and recreation programs.
Link, Shapiro Earn Highest BVA Honors
This year’s Melvin J. Maas Award winner was Peter Link of the Rocky Mountain Regional Group. For 20 years, Peter helped literally thousands of veterans receive their VA benefits, providing them also with extra doses of inspiration, encouragement, and practical assistance along the way.
With wife, Eve, at his side, Jack Shapiro graciously accepted the David L. Schnair Award, having returned the award stipend to BVA as a contribution.
Bringing a comprehensive knowledge of the law, coupled with integrity, compassion, and tenacity to his VA claims work as a BVA Field Service Representative, Peter has also been an effective tutor, mentor, and facilitator for a host of other field reps and volunteers as the long-regarded BVA “guru” on veterans benefits.
Peter Link has immersed himself totally in everything he has endeavored to do, beginning as a medic in the U.S. Air force during 1954-58. Although he began losing his vision while in the Air Force and was declared legally blind in the early 1960s, he maintained his central vision until the mid-1980s. He has been totally blind in both eyes since 1995.
Peter refused to allow the condition of his eyes to frustrate and hinder him in his career. Although he is a remarkable self-teacher in almost everything he does, this talent is most openly evident in his utilization of adaptive technology, especially learning aids like computers.
Like many veterans he has assisted, Peter attended the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, California, learning orientation and mobility skills that allowed him to improve and solidify his independence. He then earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Eastern Washington State University and a Master of Science in Psychology and Rehabilitation Counseling from San Francisco State University. He also has 40 post-graduate credits in law and has community college teaching credentials in California. He is a member of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates and the Washington, DC, Bar Association.
As a BVA Field Rep, Peter provided excellent oversight of VA programs, going way beyond the extra mile in time and energy to ensure that all veterans received the services, benefits, and prosthetics for which they were legally eligible.
The Irving Diener Award had no nominees and hence no winner in 2007.
Jack Shapiro of the New York Regional Group was honored as this year’s David Schnair Award winner. Since BVA’s earliest days until the present, Jack has been widely known for his upbeat spirit, his dry sense of humor, and his willingness to help and serve his fellow blinded veterans without thought of recompense or reward.
Prior to October 1, 2006, Jack had accumulated more than 28,500 volunteer hours for BVA, having already been honored and recognized by the New York Harbor Healthcare System (Manhattan Campus) in 2003 for reaching 25,000 hours of service.
Jack was a World War II Army medic in D-Day Plus 2, at one time suffering a shrapnel wound to his foot that returned him to England for treatment. After the wound healed, Jack was sent back to his unit. In February of 1945, Jack found himself treating wounded soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. Walking behind an ambulance, he lost his vision when the vehicle struck a landmine.
Jack was hospitalized at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and then sent to Avon Old Farms, Connecticut, in August of 1945, missing by just four months the founding and first official meeting of the Blinded Veterans Association | Summer 2007 Bulletinon March 28, 1945. He started his career with Bache and Company Investment Firm in New York and then worked for the Social Security Administration for 30 years. Following retirement, he began working alongside David Schnair himself in the New York Regional Group’s volunteer office and continues in much the same capacity today.
Other award winners are:
2007 Gold Gavel Award
Greater Houston Regional Group
(largest numerical increase—42 new members)
2007 Silver Gavel Award
Rio Grande Regional Group
(largest percentage member increase, second consecutive year—11 percent)
2007 Certificates of Appreciation
Jodi C. Roth
VA Medical Center
BVA National Convention Volunteer Support, 2002-07
Special Plaque Presentation
Joseph H. Maino, O.D.
Chief of VICTORS Low Vision Rehabilitation Program
VA Medical Center
Kansas City, Missouri
Braille Flag Presentation Courtesy of Kansas Braille Transcription Institute
New York, New York
Special Michael Naranjo Sculpture Presentation
New York Regional Group
Floral Park, New York
Volunteers Perform Labor of Love
Today was a real adventure,” joked Convention Volunteer Coordinator Margarine Beaman after a day’s work at the Albuquerque Sunport.
Margarine Beaman’s volunteers from the 51st Unit of Air Force Junior ROTC provided invaluable assistance at the Tuesday President’s Reception and the Albuquerque Sunport as BVA members departed the following Sunday. Front row, left to right, Scott Sikora, Gabriel Gonzales, Mitchell Robertson. Second row, Paul Gonzales, Deanna Davis, Sami Mills, Desiree Wildman, Allison Smith, Margarine Beaman. Third row, Joshua Richardson and Nick Wildman
Margarine was referring to the tightrope she and her cadre of volunteers were required to walk as they passed back and forth through security checkpoints, ran to meet Operation Peer Support arrivals that landed within minutes of one another, arranged ground transportation, carried heavy luggage to and from the outside curb, or secured dog food for a convention attendee whose bags did not arrive with his flight.
“This is always a juggling act that I’m not sure how we manage, but somehow it always works out,” she said.
Making it work for Margarine means kind persistence with airport and shuttle employees, quick training sessions with new volunteers, durable arms and legs, intermittent cellular telephone calls to BVA staff, and the ability to go long periods with minimal food, drink, and sleep—all the while laughing with old friends and making sure no one goes unattended.
“It’s a real trip, that’s for sure,” she said, “but the BVA conference is still much smaller and manageable than others I’ve worked with, which simply means I’m used to all of this!”
In addition to her dawn-to-dusk airport service when convention attendees arrived in and departed from Albuquerque, Margarine was never long in one place as she attended, as always, to every need and request.
Trip Home Sweeter for Sweepstakes Winners
The grand prize sweepstakes winner was blinded veteran Louis Nadell, a Korean War era veteran from Eugene, Oregon. Lou collected approximately $5,300 in winnings, or 50 percent of the prize pool.
Second prize went to June Willis of Athens, Georgia, wife of World War II veteran Robert Willis. June won some $2,600, which was 25 percent of the prize pool.
The third place winner was Joanne Evans, wife of Gene Evans. Joanne and Gene, residents of Albert Lea, Minnesota, attended the convention and were present at the Awards Banquet when the winners were announced. Joanne won approximately $1,500, or 15 percent of the prize pool.
Past National President Carl Foley of Dayton, Ohio was the lucky name drawn for fourth place. His winnings were approximately 10 percent of the prize pool, amounting to $1,100. Carl was also in attendance to hear that a winning ticket had been drawn for him.
Looking to 63rd and Beyond
Anticipation and planning for the BVA 63rd National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, are already underway. Still a bit weary from the long days in Albuquerque, Assistant Convention Coordinator Larry Martinez is nevertheless already enthusiastic about BVA’s gathering in The Valley of the Sun’s Hyatt Regency Hotel August 12-16, 2008.
“This is a convention our membership will not want to miss,” he said. “The regional group is working feverishly on the tours and side trips, and the opportunities for enjoyment in downtown Phoenix are almost endless.”
According to Larry, some 22 restaurants, including the world-famous and reasonably priced “Matador” directly across the street to the right of the hotel, are all located within walking distance of The Hyatt Regency. A public transportation service will take passengers free of charge within a 15-block area of downtown. Bank One Ballpark, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is a two-block stroll while world-class theater, shopping, and bars are equally close. Uniformed “ambassadors” are found on nearly every corner to direct and assist the city’s visitors.
The Hyatt Regency itself features four full-service restaurants: Compass Restaurant (a top-floor revolving facility that allows patrons to see different views of the city while dining), Networks Bar and Grill, Terrace Cafe, and Einstein Bros. Cafe and Bagel. There is a full-service business center, a fully equipped fitness center, and a gift shop.
“Make no mistake--it’s warm in Phoenix” said Larry. “That being said, no one should miss this convention because of the heat as there are outdoor air mists and superb indoor air conditioning everywhere.”
Activities in the works include a Thursday trip to Sedona arranged by the Northern Arizona Regional Group and a music and mariachi performance. The room rate for the Hyatt Regency is $94 plus a 12.07 percent room tax.
Portland, Oregon, will be the site of the BVA 64th National Convention in August of 2009. Exact convention dates and hotel venue will be announced in an upcoming Bulletin issue. Official bids can now be submitted for 2010 and 2011 with voting to take place in Phoenix next year. Peter Davis of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group made a pitch during the closing business session for Washington, DC/Northern Virginia as a potential site for the 65th Convention. San Juan, Puerto Rico, has also expressed interest in bidding for 2010.
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