Around BVA


Stamper Marksmanship Shortens Weeklong Elk Hunt in Idaho


Spotter Kelly Yore, second from left, gives thumbs up to unique hunting feat performed by Dale Stamper, third from left. A team of outfitters also joined the pair on what turned out to be a short hunt.

Spotter Kelly Yore, second from left, gives thumbs up to unique hunting feat performed by Dale Stamper, third from left. A team of outfitters also joined the pair on what turned out to be a short hunt.

Just weeks after the national convention, Dale Stamper left for a weeklong elk hunting camp and expedition that he himself was responsible for cutting short.

No, Dale did not catch the flu or break an ankle for the second time in less than a year. Nor was he bored or having a miserable time. He said, in fact, that he had the time of his life in an area of southern Idaho near the town of Mountain Home.

“It was one of the best times I’ve had in a long time,” he related later. “I’m out there doing guy stuff and talking about guy stuff with a group that works hard and plays hard at the same time—and helping me with a great deal of passion to accomplish something I wanted to do.”

The “guys” referred to by Dale work through the Disabled American Veterans and VA to offer an elk hunt to two Idaho disabled veterans per year on a working ranch owned by an individual also excited by the opportunity. The trip is publicized and happened to catch Cora Stamper’s attention a few months before. She submitted an application for Dale not necessarily hopeful that he would be selected. Nevertheless, much to the happy surprise of both, Dale was one of the two vets selected.

“For some reason the other veteran did not make it so there I was, just myself, with those four passionate outfitters keen on me getting an elk sometime during the week,” he said. “I think what they try to do is pick someone for this trip who can benefit the most from such an experience and not necessarily for anything he/she may have done in the past.”

A friend of Dale’s drove him to southern Idaho on October 2, a Sunday. That evening Dale and the group heard elk constantly. To get started, Dale and his new spotter, Kelly Yore, used an iScope device that links a smartphone to the hunter’s scope so that he/she can use the camera from the smartphone to broadcast his/her scope view. Yore could then watch the target area with both eyes and relate the important information to Dale. A target was set up approximately 100 yards out and Dale took four rounds of shots.

“In each of the four rounds I hit the target every time,” he said. “At that point I was surprising myself as Kelly encouraged me.”

On Monday morning Dale’s group of six set out for the hunt.

“We went to one spot early on and didn’t find anything,” he said. “Then we went to a gully and located a bunch of elk nearby.”

Dale said that at that point, only some 90 minutes into the hunt, one of the outfitters started calling the elk with a bugle that drew the herd and the main bull from about 300 yards away down to about 120 yards.

“In the meantime, Kelly is behind me talking about the process and we’re fiddling with the iphone trying to get it in focus,” he said. “Finally, after we get things focused and I have the rifle lined up, Kelly tells me to go ahead and fire.”

Amazingly, Dale’s first shot got the 600-pound, 6-by-6 elk in the top of the heart. Because it was mating season, and there was plenty of adrenaline and pent-up energy, the elk did not go down right away but did so soon enough due to the accuracy of the shot.

“It was an example of a perfect team,” said Dale. “Kelly had confidence that I was going to hit the target and I had confidence that he was going to help me line it up correctly.”

Equally impressive was that Dale was the first and only blind hunter Yore had ever worked with and the first hunter to ever bag an elk that quickly on the first day.

“Of course we did a lot of yelling and hugging one another right after that,” he said. “We went back to the cabin and celebrated.”

With his mission accomplished, Dale returned home on Tuesday rather than the originally scheduled Thursday.

“While it is true that I relished this experience, it is still about promoting what these outfitters did for me rather than what I did,” he said. “They showed me and everyone with whom I’m able to share this experience, especially my fellow blinded veterans, that we can all approach our lives with passion and that there is no limit to our capabilities.”

To blinded veterans who think they cannot go elk hunting and land one during the hunt, or do something similar, Dale would try to convince them otherwise.

“Some of us tend to think that life is over,” he said. “Good grief—we can’t think that way and just need to get out and do something.”

Trip a Reality, Thanks to VA Rehab


Terry Kebbel, far left, uses technology to do his part in the preparation of his table’s Gazpacho.

Terry Kebbel, far left, uses technology to do his part in the preparation of his table’s Gazpacho.

An always active Terry Kebbel, Rio Grande Regional Group, and his wife, Maryellen, took their high-energy lifestyle a step further by celebrating their 65th birthdays with a two-week trip to Spain.

Without the benefit of all of his VA blind rehabilitation training, Terry said such travel would, at best, be much less enjoyable.

“The major reason for our decision to go was my blind rehab training,” said Terry. “This included mobility, orientation, and iPhone technology training.”

Terry, who is totally blind, put into practice many of the specific techniques he has learned as a trainee during several stints at VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers and sent photos to BVA National Headquarters to prove it.

“I was able to navigate cobblestone walkways and steps with my white cane, and I demonstrated the arm bar technique to the coach driver so that he could assist me during exits from the coach,” he said. “I learned these techniques from my hiking training at the blind center in Palo Alto.”

Terry was also able to use his KNFB reader to convert brochures into a readable format and take photos with his accessible iPod Touch, including a head-on photo of MaryEllen eating lunch in a Seville restaurant. In front of several onlookers, he also chopped vegetables for Gazpacho, a soup made of raw vegetables, served cold, and originating in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.

“I was able to participate with my fellow travelers in the sighted world and enjoyed all of the tastes, smells, languages, and culture,” he said.

Quoting United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Terry asserted that the world’s citizens have a right to access leisure and tourism services on an equal basis.

“With that right let’s get out and enjoy what life has to offer!” he exclaimed.

Most certainly Terry is one to practice what he preaches.

White Cane Day Activities Offer Outreach Opportunities


BVA Field Service Training Coordinator Wade Davis, center, with BROS Cecilia Rose, left, and VIST Coordinator Ellen Rudykoff at White Cane Awareness Day information booth.

BVA Field Service Training Coordinator Wade Davis, center, with BROS Cecilia Rose, left, and VIST Coordinator Ellen Rudykoff at White Cane Awareness Day information booth.

Blinded veterans from regional groups across the country recently joined forces with BVA Auxiliary regional groups, VA support groups, and sister organizations of and for the blind in promoting public awareness of the issues facing the blind and visually impaired.

White Cane Safety Day is officially October 15 and commemorated throughout the month of October. Because the official date fell on a Saturday in 2016, most of the activities scheduled in VA facilities occurred the following week.

BVA members, VIST Coordinators, and Auxiliary members arranged demonstrations and discussions about the significance of the white cane itself, how to assist the legally blind in public places, and how motorists can best demonstrate courtesy to those with vision loss who might be navigating sidewalks or trying to cross the street within crosswalks.

By official proclamation of the President of the United States, White Cane Safety Day has also become known as Blind Americans Equality Day under President Obama, who this year affirmed “the inherent dignity of every human being” and recommitted “to forging a future in which all Americans, including those with visual impairments, can pursue their full measure of happiness.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Safety Day proclamation, asking all citizens to recognize the white cane as a symbol of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his or her own.

The original proclamation further declared: “The white cane’s use has promoted courtesy and special consideration for the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more aware of the meaning of the white cane, and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it, the Congress, by joint resolution approved October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.”

BVA National Headquarters sent informational and promotional materials to several of its own regional groups, chapters, and individual members in preparation for specific events on October 15 and beyond. Most of these events occur at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics with the support of VIST Coordinators and other Blind Rehabilitation Service staff. In other cases, materials are sent directly to VA staff members or other organizations who offer to promote BVA as part of their own White Cane Safety Day activities.

On October 13, BVA Training Coordinator Wade Davis shared a display table with VIST Coordinator Ellen Rudykoff and Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Cecilia Rose in the Washington, DC VA Medical Center lobby. The three together shared information about VA and BVA services to passersby, which included a few veterans with vision loss or individuals acquainted with them.

On October 14, members of the North Carolina Regional Group set up a similar arrangement at the Durham VA Medical Center under the leadership of group president Lee Davis.

On October 15, the Columbus Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group conducted a white cane walk in the downtown area of the city under the planning and coordination of regional group secretary Elizabeth Holmes, attracting the attention of WRBL-TV-3. The station aired a segment on the local news later that day.

Liz and son Ben, the latter of whom is the recently elected BVA Auxiliary National Secretary, also made white cane replica pins out of the colored iron beads that meld together.

“One of our goals is to inform the community and let them know that people with white canes are individuals,” blinded veteran Raymond Thorn said in a soundbite during the segment. “We’re not delicate and you can also approach us as valuable citizens like everyone else.”

Signs Unveiled at Waco Blind Center


Two signs welcoming trainees and visitors to the Waco Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Doris Miller VA Medical Center were dedicated and placed at the Center’s entry ways on October 4.

On hand for the unveiling was blinded veteran Kevin Jackson of nearby Austin. Kevin is both president and secretary of BVA’s Greater Austin Chapter.

“I had the good fortune of being present for this dedication and offering a few remarks about the meaning of the signs, which was both enjoyable and inspirational to me,” Kevin said.

According to Chris Bosley, Chief of the BRC, the signs came about following considerable trial and error.

“But the end result was well worth it,” he said.

The signs were built by the BRC’s two Manual Skills Instructors, Thomas Wedemeyer and Jonathan Nissen. They were made out of a 1-inch thick, 8-foot long, 7-inch wide piece of donated pinewood. The pine was routed on one edge of the sign and sanded. Paint was mixed and feathered out on the edges using a semi-stained paint process to give the sign a faded look toward the edges.

Colors on the signs are red, white, and blue mimicking the American flag with large, black letters cut out of acrylic using a laser engraver. White star templates were cut out from the laser and spray painted on the sign.

On the bottom right corner is the engraving “Blind Rehab Service 2016.”

“To give the sign a personal touch, World War II veteran Robert W. Winslow of Kansas signed one of them after completion,” said Bosley. “Both signs have the same message to all who enter our BRC: The price of freedom is seen here.”

Kevin said the interpretation of the signs could be two-fold: first, that veterans who attend the BRC have dedicated their lives as a price for freedom; and second, that the same individuals now exercise their freedom as they attend the BRC and serve as ambassadors for other blinded veterans who should do the same.

“Hopefully, more of our veterans will take advantage of this great program and facility,” said Kevin, who also helped three additional blinded veterans complete the application process for membership in BVA during his visit. “One veteran told me that he had never been treated as well his entire life as he had there.”

Kevin said that the optimism expressed by veterans attending the BRC is due in large part to the environment created by Bosley’s leadership, which includes expanded recreational opportunities and collaboration with the Baylor Medical School’s Eye Clinic. Kevin met briefly with Bosley as well as Dr. Olawale Fashina, Chief of Staff of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

Life Memberships Increase Following Convention Action


BVA has added 87 new members to its ranks since the approval of a bylaw amendment offering Life Membership and Associate Life Membership to all blinded veterans at a discounted rate of $20.

Membership Coordinator Cecilia Montenegro announced the increase at a November 16 national headquarters staff meeting. Included in the new members were six honorary memberships for World War II veterans. The 81 other additions consisted of three Life Memberships and 78 Associate Life Memberships, increasing the total number of active BVA members to 8,426.

Life membership is granted when the impairment of sight or vision is determined to be service connected (in the line of duty) by VA or the Department of Defense (DoD). Associate Life Membership is granted when the impairment of sight or vision is determined not to be service connected (not incurred in the line of duty) by VA or DoD.

The bylaw amendment was passed on August 26 at the Closing Business Session of the 71st National Convention and remains in effect until August 1, 2017. The offer saves blinded veterans $30 to $80 on membership costs. Membership dues prior to the amendment were determined by age categories. Within these categories the youngest age group was paying $100 and the oldest $50 for a life membership.

BVA Initiative Offers Blind Hockey to Vets


Hockey for the blind and visually impaired is the focus of a new initiative unveiled by BVA to provide enjoyment and recreational rehabilitation opportunities to a population who may have never before engaged in the sport.

The initiative, made possible by a grant awarded to BVA from the VA Office of Adaptive Sports Programs for Disabled Veterans and Disabled Members of the Armed Forces, currently seeks interested athletes to participate in weekly “Try It” sessions in the Washington, DC area.

The “Try It” sessions mean more than one-time attendance. The program takes players who have never skated before. It introduces them to the basics of skating, equips them with gear, and safely trains them to go as far as they wish to go in hockey, which is considered the only adaptive winter team sport.

“We are excited about moving blind ice hockey forward to take a more prominent place among popular activities for those with vision loss, especially veterans,” said BVA Program Director Bruce Porter. “Although many are surprised to hear blind and ice hockey in the same sentence, blind hockey has been played in Canada for nearly 40 years.”

Although the rules for blind hockey are similar to the sighted game, an enlarged, slower moving puck with loud ball bearings is used. In tournament play all athletes must be at least legally blind with the lowest vision athletes playing defense or goalie. Athletes are grouped by sight level and can have only a set amount of sight among all of the players on the ice at the same time.

Adaptations for the blind and visually impaired within the sport include full protective gear, including face mask. The game is also played with International Ice Hockey Federation safety protocols, including no-touch icing and crease violations to ensure utmost player safety.

Blind hockey also requires goals to be scored in the bottom three feet of the net as it is unfair to the goalie to score in the top portion. The adapted puck does not make noise in the air. Teams must complete one pass prior to being able to score in the attacking half of the rink. This provides both the low-vision defense and the goalie an extra opportunity to track the puck.

Because hockey is considered the fastest, most aggressive game in the world, those who take up the sport usually develop increased mobility and balance almost immediately, Bruce said.

“BVA is involved to help our blinded veterans and to help blind associations introduce the sport to their athletes with the hope that blind hockey will be added to sports programs for the blind and visually impaired,” he added. “My role is to organize the ‘Try It’ sessions and coordinate ice time, coaching, media, and equipment.”

Bruce is confident that the interest generated in the initiative will eventually spread to blind and visually impaired veterans throughout the country.

“Most of our players thus far are very enthusiastic and blind hockey is great cross training for all sports,” he said. “This is a unique and amazing opportunity that could well lead some athletes to the Winter Paralympics games in the future.”

For an introduction to the excitement of blind ice hockey and the enthusiasm of those who play the sport, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsovpuJ7SMc. Athletes are being accepted weekly and transportation assistance is available.

Applications Now Accepted For 2017-18 Scholarships


BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2017-18 school year, six under the Kathern F. Gruber classification and one through the Thomas H. Miller program.

The Gruber scholarships are valued at $2,000 each and the Miller stipend is for $1,000.

The Miller program, now in its fifth year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards but has an added emphasis on music and the fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and two alternates.

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of both blinded veterans and active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. The veteran need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association.

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

BVA began its first scholarship program 34 years ago. The awards are intended to defray a student's educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

The scholarships will be awarded on a "most-highly-qualified" basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant's career goals and aspirations as well as past awards and achievements.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the BVA National Board of Directors has determined that Gruber and Miller Scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Applications for the scholarships may be accessed and downloaded at bva.org, by emailing the request to projectassistant@bva.org, or by sending a written request via postal mail to BVA National Headquarters, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 21, 2017. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee's review, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted. Incomplete applications will not be submitted to the scholarship committee. It is the responsibility of the applicant, not BVA, to ensure a complete application.

Rio Grande Support Group Gets Voting Machine Demo


An October 18 meeting of the BVA Rio Grande low-vision support group celebrated the strides of persons with vision disabilities and reaffirmed their capability to fully participate in society, according to Rio Grande Regional Group member Terry Kebbel.

The meeting featured officials from the Dona Ana County Board of Elections, who provided training on an accessible voting machine that allows the voter to cast his/her choice totally independently and without assistance.

“The machine was available at all voting sites in our county for the recent elections,” said Terry. “Everyone at our meeting was amazed at how easy the voting machine is to use with an audio menu system that is simple to navigate.”

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