Many Changes for BVA!
Most members know that BVA began on March 28, 1945 in which about 100 blinded patients at Avon, Connecticut’s Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital gathered at 8:45 am to formally organize a fraternal union, designed to assist one another. Baynard Kendrick, author of a novel entitled “Lights Out” about a veteran blinded in World War II, was the motivating force behind this idea. Also known was that BVA later gained its Congressional Charter in 1958. This is true for the BVA, but a little unknown fact is that BVA although is currently the only service organization Chartered by Congress whose purpose is solely to act on behalf of blind veterans it was not the first U.S. Congressional Chartered organization formed for the blind. In June 1924 under Title 36 Chapter 6, the U. S. Blind Veterans of World War I was granted its Congressional Charter. One might ask where was that organization when 1945 came around? Speculations consider that a segment in February 1925 formed a National Chapter within an organization then known as the Disabled American Veterans of the World War, today known as DAV. If one could imagine the difficulties that organization was subjected to in a pre-1929depression’s environment and without the communication vehicles available in 1945 and especially what we have today.
Many after attending the first ever military Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Army General Hospital # 8 in Baltimore, known as Evergreen Army “Blind Center” which closed in 1924, had little follow on training. The blinded veterans at Evergreen, of course were young and a large percentage of their training was vocational employment skills, book binding, piano tuning, assembly training, pottery and other employment training. Because the blind Veterans Bureau WW I Pensions were initially $19 month, these young blinded veterans went into the work force which was “Roaring 1920’s” many married, some went to college, and by 1926 Veterans Bureau- reported to Congress there were 889 “blinded veterans completed training for war blindness, and 109 refused any federal government assistance. After the crash in 1929 many of the blinded veterans lost their employment and as time went on their care givers began dying off and some ended up in state run veteran’s nursing homes. There were no veteran rehabilitation centers anywhere.
Fast forward to 1945 out of necessity to have a chance at a decent quality of life and to be a productive part of society the founders came up with the idea of forming the Blinded Veterans Association. With history behind them they must have realized what their futures would be like if there wasn’t an organization that would stand together as one.
With the assistance of the American Foundation for the Blind, charitable donations from many sources, the Veterans Administration, individual humanitarians, and of course the persistence of the founders the Blinded Veterans Association did not have the same ending as the U.S. Blinded Veterans of WWI.
As BVA grew, it initially consisted of general members who had service connected blindness. Some early members began to regain their eyesight and the birth of the Associate Member was form for those members. As time passed the Associate Member class was opened to blind veterans who did not have service connected blindness. Later the Associate Member class was given the equal rights to office and vote
Today we have access to 13 Blind Rehab Centers, VIST Coordinators, Blind Rehab Occupational Specialists and a solid organization given access to the leadership of the U.S. congress. It is an organization cherished by its members and respected not only Nationwide but jointly in the United Kingdom through BVA’s Project Gemini.
The BVA of today remains as a blind organization, continuing to help one another and ensure the services and benefits due all blind veterans of our Armed Forces have the opportunity to enjoy the quality of life deserved.
- Major General Melvin J. Maas , Kathern Gruber, Father Carroll Lasting Legacies.
Members hear of these names when there are announcements such as Major General Melvin J. Maas Achievement Award, the Kathern Gruber Scholarship, or the Father Carroll luncheon. These individuals were very integral and important individuals who gave support, when asked, to guide or move issues along.
- Major General Melvin J. Maas, Congressman from Minnesota for16 years. Lost eyesight in 1951 at age 53. Pilot in WWI and WW II. Following the end of World War II had been retained on active duty as a brigadier general in the Marine Corps Reserve. Then, in July of 1950, just after the Korean War broke out, Maas was recalled to active duty in the Pentagon as chairman of a Defense Department committee assigned to draft an armed-forces-reserve reorganization bill. In 1947, President Truman appointed Maas to the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Physically Handicapped. In April 1954, President Eisenhower appointed him to the position as the committee's Chairman. He remained in that position until 1964. In 1958 Major General Melvin J. Maas assistance, greatly enhanced BVA’s prestige when BVA successfully secured BVA’s Congressional charter. Because the 85th Congress chartered BVA as its official representative of blinded veterans, we are now honored to present oral testimony and submit a larger written version each year regarding the special needs and status of blinded veterans. In 1960 he was elected as the President of BVA. Following his death and because of his superior accomplishments and services given to the BVA the organizations highest award for achievement for men and women with service connected blindness was endowed with his name.
- Kathern "Kay" Gruber was one of BVA's early pioneers as an advisor to the organization and became acquainted with the organization while serving in the mid-1940s as the American Foundation for the Blind's Director of Services for the War Blind. Kay attended all of the BVA conventions for several decades, sitting through all of the Board of Directors meetings and offering counsel and advice. She also served on a key advisory group in 1948 that made recommendations to VA regarding the care and rehabilitation of the war blinded. She further assisted in the establishment of the first comprehensive Blind Rehabilitation Center at the VA Medical Center in Hines, Illinois. The BVA scholarship program was named after Kathern Gruber at the BVA 40th National Convention (1985) in San Diego, California.
- Father Thomas J. Carroll’s loyalty, passion, guidance, and compassion helped lay the foundation for BVA’s long history, which is now 73 years of continuous work on behalf of blinded veterans and their families. April 24, 2018 marks the 47th anniversary of an overwhelming loss to BVA and its members. Every year at our National convention we perpetuate his memory and legacy through the Father Carroll Luncheon.
- Financial Status.
BVA’s first national office was a desk in the corner of the Gundy Tea Room in Farmington, Connecticut. As proud leaders of a new organization, the membership agreed to accept no help, financial or otherwise, from any outside source.
It was soon realized how difficult it would be to manage the Association on a $20 initiation fee plus $5 of yearly membership dues. A special meeting was held in January 1946 at which three changes were made. First, the $20 initiation fee was abolished and a $1 membership fee established. Secondly, it was decided to accept gifts and donations from nonprofit organizations. And, third, a trust fund was established within the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
Funds did not materialize as expected in early 1946. It was not until July of that year that the Women’s International Bowling Congress provided BVA with its first real sense of security, a contribution of $25,000 a year for the next three years. Later, the men of the Bowlers Victory League added their support with the same yearly amount as the women had given. These initial contributions ultimately totaled more than $750,000.
Today BVA’s total net assets exceed 12 million dollars. Average total revenue for the past 7 years is approximately 4.8 million dollars. Average total expenses over the same period is approximately 4.3 million. Table below reflects amounts shown on BVA’s IRS 990 for the years 2011 to 2017. Even though contributions over the past two years Have been extremely low over the last 7 years revenue less expenses have netted a gain of over 4 million dollars. Many veterans service organizations are feeling the same reduction in donations and BVA’s National Board of Directors have been reducing expenses and reforming the Association to run more efficiently.
- History of National Headquarters.
Noted above, BVA’s first national office was a desk in the corner of the Gundy Tea Room in Farmington, Connecticut. Since BVA was a national organization, as it is now, it was determined to move the headquarters from Farmington to New York City. BVA was originally incorporated by the State of New York in 1947. A year later, the national office was moved to Washington, DC so that the Association could work more closely with VA and the U.S. Congress.
For a number of years there had been interest in buying a building, but the funds had not been available. After a rather extensive search, in October 1987 BVA purchased a building for its new HQ at 477 H St NW, in the National Capitol’s Chinatown. The purchase price was $2.5 million. The Association made a down payment of $1 million and mortgaged the remaining sum. Before moving in on Saturday, June 25, 1988, the BVA Board voted to install an elevator, a reception area, and a restroom on the third floor. The Association’s National HQ occupied the building for approximately 27 years.
In 1990 BVA received a bequest from an individual named Dolly Green, who had recently passed away. The bequest was in the amount of 4.5 million dollars. The Board voted to pay off the mortgage and place the remainder of the Dolly Green bequest in conservative investments.
Like all old structures, the maintenance and upkeep of BVA National Headquarters had become an expensive and ongoing, never-ending task. From 2010 to 2013 the National Board discussed with the past executive director Tom Miller how the BVA building was costing more and more each year in maintenance and draining money away from the growing problem with the general fund revenue decreasing and being a heavy detractor to balance the Association’s budget.
During the BVA National convention, in 2014, it was explained to the membership assembled at the convention the reasoning behind and the need to place the Building on the market. With a purchase price in 1987 of 2.5 million dollars and with the growth of the Chinatown area of D.C. it was decided to look for serious bids of 5 million dollars. Several bids were made but none at 5 million dollars. During the BVA 2015 National convention in Louisville, Kentucky the National Board was able to announce that the building had been sold at the sale price of 5.4 million dollars. Of course, less all fees, stamps, realtors, and all other cost associated with the sale of real-estate the full 5.4 million didn’t get bankrolled.
The BVA National Bylaws provide that the National Board may establish a Building Fund for the purpose of constructing or purchasing a building for the Association's National Headquarters. The National Board decided to secure 4 million dollars, from the sale of the Building, a portion of which is intended for the future purchase of a replacement building. One million dollars from the sale was invested in the Association’s investment fund for operating purposes to cover operating deficits until fundraising initiatives can show returns.
Currently BVA’s National HQ is located in the quaint area of (Old town) Alexandria, Virginia; 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314; Phone: 800-669-7079. For now, BVA enjoys not having an old 131-year-old building to care for, and a landlord making sure the heat is working during the cold winter days in Alexandria.
- Assessment of Admin support requirements.
The Executive Director continuously reviews the staffing needs of the Association. The staffing requirements are approved by the National Board of Directors. Non-professional employees are aligned into specific staff requirements by the Executive Director. Professional staffing requirements are the responsibility of the National Board of Directors.
As the needs of the Association change so do staffing requirements. Present conditions have necessitated the National Board to review alternate means such as outsourcing certain functions and transforming full time into part time positions. In doing so overall expenses have been reduced significantly.
Most recent functional changes were to BVA's communication and media section. Also, the decision was made to outsource both BVA's convention coordinating and also the financial and accounting functions.
E. Additional Outsource of specific functional areas within HQ.
- Additional Outsource of specific functional areas within HQ.
One of the most expensive ways to obtain charitable contributions is using what is termed "Direct Mail". This is sending letters to potential donors using mailing list either rented or accumulated by other means. Direct mail incurs postage and mailing costs in addition to the material, advertisement and man hour cost. This cost can run up from 25% to 50% of the actual revenue received.
In previous years BVA had employed an individual that was responsible for administrating the Direct Mail program. During the National Board's continuing review of ways to reduce costs it was determined that outsourcing BVA's Direct Mail program could be done with less expense incurred. The company Lewis Direct was contracted to run the Direct Mail program. For these past two years Lewis Direct has maintained the normal average revenue stream, but at a cost almost one-half that of previous years. Lewis Direct prides itself on its devoted service to our blinded veterans and is in constant communications with not only National Headquarters but also with the National Board of Directors during their meetings whether they be at the National Headquarters or at the National conventions.
Another source of contribution revenue is through bequest, major donations (corporate/personal), and grants. BVA is very dependent on these types of revenue. Two years ago the grant writer that was working with BVA left and to date a replacement has not been identified. As can be noticed by a review of the annual finance reports for the past two years this type of revenue stream has dropped off to almost nothing, making not only BVA dependent on only Direct Mail, but left with a spending deficit.
The BVA Board of Directors noticing the deficit problem instituted reduction in expense programs, reducing expenses by 10% each year. In addition to reducing expenses the National Board began reviewing where other costs may be eliminated by outsourcing administrative functions
The next step to the fundraising problem is to select a source for identifying ways to increase revenue from other sources so BVA is not totally dependent on Direct Mail. As noted in finance above BVA is financially stable and with all the new changes being incorporated BVA will be here for generations to come.
- Recruitment of an Executive Director.
On March 28, 1945 during the first meeting which created the Blinded Veterans Association the following officers were elected during that meeting: President-Ray Frey, Vice President-Pinky Hoffman, Secretary-Henry Masse, and Treasurer-Wilbur Washburn. The other five members elected to the original Board of Directors were Lloyd Greenwood, Joseph Smietanowski, Bill Aziz, John Millon, and Al Schmidt.
The Attorney Arthur Brothers drew up the constitution and bylaws according to the business plan. Baynard Kendrick (blinded in World War II and the motivating force behind BVA) was appointed as Honorary Chairman and Vision Advisor.
After moving the national Headquarters to New York City Baynard agreed to donate one year from his writing career to “man” the office as our administrator. He also agreed to raise funds, travel extensively to aid any blinded veteran in need, and to train two blinded veterans who would eventually take over as BVA’s administrators.
As a result of Baynard’s efforts, Lloyd Greenwood would shortly become BVA’s first Executive Director. H. Pat Adams would take over as Executive Secretary and editor of the BVA Bulletin.
The position of the BVA's Executive Director is the Chief Executive Officer of the organization. Keeping with a tradition of blinded veterans helping blinded veterans the Executive Director is selected from the Life Members or Associate Life members of the Association. The position is responsible for the overall functioning and performance of the BVA staff, including contractors; also carrying out of directives, instructions, and policies legally adopted by the National Board of Directors and/or by Association members in convention assembled; and ensuring compliance with the laws and regulations to which BVA is subject.
On December 19, 2017, an announcement was made announcing the vacancy of the position of Executive Director for the Blinded Veterans Association. An Association wide search began looking for a qualified individual. The National Board of Directors tasked the BVA Executive Committee to conduct interviews and report back to the National Board with their recommendations.
After screening, live interviews, and evaluation, the BVA Executive Committee passed their recommendation to the full National Board of Directors. On February 2, 2018 the Full National Board selected Joe Bogart as the Association's next Executive Director.
Joe Bogart, Maj. Army-Ret, BVA Life Member, has attended three national conventions. At the time of his interview for BVA Executive Director Bogart was in the process of retiring from the Army. Joe's blindness is Combat blast injury sustained in the Iraq War. He served two combat tours of duty in Iraq, one of those tours was after being blinded; making him one of the few blinded veterans who due to their competitive performance were allowed to remain on active duty especially in combat and hazardous assignments.
The new Executive Director began his current tour of duty with the Blinded Veterans Association on March 5, 2018.
- G. The new Field Service Program.
In 1953, BVA established the Field Service Program thanks to financial support from local Community Chests. The purpose of the program was, and remains today, assistance to blinded veterans and their families in adjusting to blindness and in obtaining the benefits they had rightly earned.
As the program became larger Field Service Officers were dispersed throughout the United States into regional territories. Keeping the program staffed and trained became very difficult. Also having the Service Officers dispersed without any supervision it was determined that with the rising costs of the FSP it would be beneficial to centrally locate the Service Officers in one location.
The new Resource Center features a dedicated toll free number and a dedicated Fax number which any blind veteran across the nation can call and receive services from any BVA National Field Service Officer regardless of where they live. The resource center is open Monday – Friday 9:00 am through 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Phone: 844-250-5180 (Toll Free); Fax: 703-566-8199; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.