Project Gemini May 2016 (5/23/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Blind Veterans UK to Again Host American Veterans in British Isles

Blind Veterans UK to Again Host American Veterans in British Isles


Alexandria, VA (May 20, 2016)—Four Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) combat blinded American veterans will travel to the United Kingdom to share knowledge, insights, and friendship with five British war-blinded comrades and two additional war-blinded veterans from South Africa.

The May 21-28 exchange, jointly initiated and coordinated by Blind Veterans UK and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), has been popularly recognized by the two organizations as Project Gemini for the past six years. This year’s activities will be based for the first time at the Llandudno Centre of Blind Veterans UK in northern Wales. The two participants from the St Dunstan’s organization of South Africa will also be accompanied by two members of its rehabilitation staff.

Airfare for this year’s trip from Chicago to Manchester, England came from a generous donation by British Airways.

Dr. John Clark is the immediate past president of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), will join the 2016 exchange in order to learn more about British veterans’ rehabilitation and research programs. Dr. Clark served as combat engineer in Vietnam and feels strong connection to and supports more vision trauma research for the blinded and visually impaired returning war veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan generation.

Dr. Clark’s participation stems from meetings conducted with Blind Veterans UK Chief Executive Officer Major General Nick Caplin (Ret.) at the recently concluded ARVO International Conference in Seattle, Washington, in which each pledged further cooperation in vision trauma research and new rehabilitation programs that will benefit current and future service members throughout the world.

This year’s exchange will again address topics related to contemporary research and rehabilitation programs that are offered to veterans in the United Kingdom, the United States, and this year South Africa. The veterans will also engage in adaptive technology activities and sports for the blind. Other highlights will include a tour of the Blind Veterans UK Rehabilitation Center and visits to other nearby historic sites.

During the week, the three groups of veterans will also share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of their personal adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation. OIF participants from BVA are Army Sergeant Monaca Gilmore, Army Sergeant Joel Tavera, Marine Corps Sergeant Andrew Lessard, and Navy Petty Officer Scott Scieszinski.

Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself, will also accompany the group as the trip coordinator. Major Zampieri is a member of the Operation Peer Support Committee and serves as the liaison to the Committee from the BVA National Board of Directors.

The joint May 2011 initiative that created Project Gemini sought to heighten public awareness of the issues facing veterans with vision loss, resulting in improvements in services and benefits for themselves and their families. It was also begun as a forum for the sharing of vision rehabilitation experiences among the veterans.

The educational scope of the program later widened to include visits and training sessions with officials of the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and senior UK military officials.

Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight during the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras.

Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight during the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras. Blind Veterans UK, is the British national charity for visually impaired ex-servicemen and women celebrating 101 years of service to blind veterans and families. Tracing its founding back to 1915 during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive support to all UK blinded veterans. For additional information, visit blindveterans.org.uk. BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, for the purpose of establishing the Association.


 Ranger Camp May 2016 (5/16/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Blinded Veterans Again Persevere At Ranger Training Camp

Blinded Veterans Again Persevere At Ranger Training Camp


For the second time in two years, some of the U.S. military’s toughest training was undertaken by a fearless group of blinded veterans led by BVA’s National Sergeant-at-Arms Danny Wallace.

With unusually high levels of strength, stamina, rigor, and endurance, they spent April 20-24 at the U.S. Army Ranger training at Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Georgia.

With travel sponsored by BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee and the idea brought to fruition by Danny himself, the trip to Camp Merrill and the subsequent training to be an Army Ranger is for the blinded veterans much like it is for actual Ranger recruits.

“We display our unstoppable drive not only to ourselves but to the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” Danny affirmed after the first Ranger experience in 2015.

In addition to Danny, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Ranger Trainee Class of 2016 consisted of Joe Burns, U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, a graduate of Ranger Class 3-69, and past BVA National President (2001-03); Gulf War Marine Corps veteran Kevin Jackson; OIF Army veteran Adam Rowland; Army National Guardsman and OIF veteran Travis Fugate; and U.S. National Guardsman and OIF veteran Mark Wilson.

“The purpose of the trip is to let people know that an organization for blinded veterans actually exists while building and fostering a bond of camaraderie between BVA and the elite Army Rangers,” said Danny. “It is our intent to demonstrate, not only to our veterans but to the Ranger community as well, the abilities that we possess even without our sight.”

Danny encouraged his fellow veterans to approach their tasks during the training with the sixth stanza of the Ranger Creed in mind: “Readily I will display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor. Rangers Lead the Way!!!”

Activities both years consisted of mountaineering training that included hiking up a rock-strewn trail toward cliffs they later climbed and rappelled. At the cliffs, the Ranger cadre and instructors set up eight climbing stations at which trainees could prove themselves on the vertical rock. The instructors assisted them in tying knots and ascending the rock face. Later in the day, they moved back to a base camp and climbed a synthetic rock wall and perform additional rappelling.

“The only limitations that we face are those that we place on ourselves,” Danny said. “Words that come to mind in helping us overcome these limitations as blinded veterans are courage, determination, self-respect, intestinal fortitude, pride, self-worth, confidence, commitment, and fellowship, just to name a few.”

The Ranger trainees also conducted a 5K run. In addition, they were invited in both 2015 and 2016 to the Gainesville, Georgia Police Department, where they shot live fire using shotguns, assault rifles and pistols. Several eating, drinking, and storytelling competitions are also on the program.

“I first attended Ranger school 47 years ago,” said Joe Burns, the oldest of the participants from both years and a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. “This prior experience did not interfere with the rewards that I reaped from having the chance to do it again now.”

Joe’s comments were echoed by Kevin Jackson of Austin, Texas, who also praised the program and the overall experience.

“Walking up to and then climbing the rock, I paid attention to all of my body positions,” he said. “This total body experience was very revealing and provided me with a sense of accomplishment that I had not experienced in a long time as I ascended to a height I didn’t expect.”

Kevin was as emphatic about his associations with fellow comrades as he was about the activities themselves.

“The camaraderie and companionship that was built in five days with other blinded veterans as well as our guides was beyond belief and very enduring,” he said. “Our guides went out of their way to support us in any way they could.”

In addition to the rigorous physical activity, the trainee participants were treated to a barbecue, a fish fry, and a critter cookout in the evenings.

The groups that Danny arranged to keep the veterans safe, well-fed, and on schedule for two years included two young soldiers who worked at the camp and a larger cadre of his Ranger friends, some of whom traveled long distances to be able to work with the group.

“The devotion and respect these warriors command is second to none,” said one such volunteer who traveled across the country in 2016 and who preferred to remain anonymous. “It is times like these, now each year, that makes me appreciate the love these veterans have for their country, and the esprit de corps that we have holds a special place in my heart.”

Blinded Veterans in front of Ranger Camp sign
Blinded Veterans on Mountainside
Blinded Veterans on Mountainside
Blinded Veterans as shooting range
Blinded Veterans on ATV

 Father Carroll Luncheon Address at 70th Convention (4/27/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association 70th Anniversary Convention Father Carroll Luncheon Address

70th Anniversary Father Carroll Luncheon Address

The Father Carroll Luncheon audience at the BVA 70th National Convention was favored on August 20, 2015 by an emotionally stirring address by American Printing House for the Blind (APH) Museum Director Micheal Hudson, who performed a dramatic reading of historic excerpts from the speeches of Father Carroll himself at the same luncheons from 1946 until 1970. In May of 2014, the APH Museum in Louisville received a shipping pallet from Boston stacked with sturdy cardboard boxes. The 40 boxes contained the life work of Father Thomas Carroll (1909-1971), transferred to the museum as part of a partnership with the Carroll Center for the Blind to preserve the Carroll legacy. Hudson used the shipped resources in preparing and delivering his dramatic reading.

More About Father Carroll

Father Carroll was a figure of giant proportions in the blindness field. As the Assistant Director of Boston’s Catholic Guild for the Blind, he also became the Chaplain for the U.S. Army’s two rehabilitation centers for blinded soldiers during World War II. He emerged as not only the spiritual leader of a group that would push the boundaries of every aspect of what it meant to be blind, but he worked to bridge the significant divide between war and civilian blind throughout his life.

If there was a national committee, anywhere, Father Carroll served on it. If you had a banquet, he was your first choice for the keynote address. His trailblazing book, “Blindness,” published first in 1961, is still considered required reading.

Unfortunately, a flood in the basement of the original St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center, which Father Carroll originally furnished with Army surplus camp equipment when he opened it in 1954, left the collection in poor condition. Staff members at APH are painstakingly removing each rusted staple, replacing ruined file folders, and organizing the collection for use. It contains decades of correspondence between Father Carroll and virtually every leader within the blindness field. Although almost every topic is addressed, it is particularly strong in the areas of Orientation and Mobility, blindness and geriatrics, blindness and psychiatry, blinded veterans, blindness and hearing, and vocational rehabilitation.

The most wonderful thing about this collection is the juxtaposition of Father Carroll the priest, the administrator, the healer, the counselor, the reformer, and the visionary, with Father Carroll the very human fellow who had trouble quitting smoking and who ranted against fragrance gardens but loved to buy gadgets out of the back of magazines. They are all there together—super hero and completely ordinary man.

As the director of the museum at APH since 2005, I will attempt in my Father Carroll Luncheon presentation to capture the unique relationship between “Father Tom” and the Blinded Veterans Association he helped to found at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital in 1945.

Father Carroll himself was the featured luncheon speaker for the organization 21 times between 1946 and 1971. Throughout this service as BVA’s National Chaplain, he was at times a friend, at times an advisor, and at times a prophet just down from the mountain. At times Father Carroll also came to the BVA events to deliver a well-earned trip to the proverbial woodshed. Whatever Tom Carroll came to say, he said it straight to one’s face, whether to one or to an entire audience. On August 20 in Louisville, I will share some of those classic lines gathered from 25 years of his close association with blinded veterans and BVA.


 Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp (4/21/2016) 
   BVA News Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp

Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp


Six veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, all legally blind and from several eras of service, will deploy to the U.S. Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp April 20-24. Despite having lost their sight, participants in the camp will utilize high levels of strength, stamina, endurance, and perhaps even some extra doses of courage left over from their days in the military.

The trainees are all members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), the only Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving the estimated 132,000 blinded veterans and their families throughout the United States. The Association’s headquarters is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

BVA’s Operation Peer Support initiative is the travel sponsor of the training for the second consecutive year. A similar group from BVA experienced Ranger Training Camp in 2015.

Operation Peer Support, initiated in 2006, seeks to help newly blinded veterans adjust to their loss of sight and look forward to the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for them. This is done through social activities, counseling, educational forums that inform them of benefits and rehabilitation programs, and events such as the anger Training Camp. Friendships are established with both veterans of earlier conflicts and their military contemporaries with whom they trained and fought.

The site of the Ranger training is Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Dahlonega, Georgia, located in the northern portion of the state. The base is the general meeting point for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and a school for Rangers.

Activities and tests will consist of mountaineering training that includes climbing sheer rock faces and rappelling down them. The Ranger cadre and instructors will set up climbing stations at which the trainees will prove themselves on the vertical rock. The instructors will assist them in tying knots and ascending the rock face.

The six veterans will also participate in a small arms firing range, competitive foot races, and several eating, drinking, and storytelling competitions. They will forge through each activity using the sixth stanza of the Ranger Creed as their foundation: “Readily I will display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor. Rangers lead the way!”

Accepting these challenges are: Joe Burns (New Orleans, Louisiana), U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and graduate of Ranger Class 3-69; Kevin Jackson (Austin, Texas), U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Gulf War; Travis Fugate (Emmalena, Kentucky), U.S. Army National Guard veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Adam Rowland (Wittman, Arizona), U.S. Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Mark Wilson (Palmyra, Missouri), U.S. Army National Guard veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and BVA National Sergeant-at-Arms Danny Wallace (Union, Missouri), U.S. Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The purpose of the trip to the Mountain Ranger Camp is to foster and build a bond of camaraderie between BVA and the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” said Wallace, also the group leader again this year and the brainchild behind the training experience for himself and his fellow blinded veterans. “It is my intent to demonstrate, not only to our veterans but to the Ranger community as well, the abilities we possess even without our sight.”

Wallace said that Ranger trainees will also participate in the camp’s annual open house on April 23, an event that typically brings thousands of attendees with whom trainees will be able to share their rehabilitation experiences as well as their personal and group accomplishments at the camp.


 Blinded Veterans Raise Concerns over Upcoming Commission on Care Report (4/21/2016) 
   BVA News Blinded Veterans Raise Concerns over Upcoming Commission on Care Report

Blinded Veterans Raise Concerns over Upcoming Commission on Care Report


This week, Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Executive Director Al Avina sent a letter asking the Commission on Care, a 15-member body charged with examining veterans’ access to health care, as it now is and will be over the next 20 years, to carefully consider in its final report aspects of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system that not only function well but are, in fact, able to provide more comprehensive and higher quality service than similar entities in the private sector.

“While it is certainly true that there are very real and serious problems plaguing the current system of care, it is a well-documented fact that veterans can receive specialized services, such as those provided by the VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers, that are simply not available from private entities,” Avina said.

The BVA comments were sent in a letter addressed to Commission Chairperson Nancy Schlichting that supported and concurred with a previous letter signed by representatives of other national Veteran and Military Service Organizations. The letter was in response to the recent “Strawman Document” from the Commission, which detailed a proposal for a large-scale move toward future privatization of veterans’ health care. According to BVA, recent evidence indicates that the Commission is flirting with a proposal to recommend doing away with VA health care altogether within 20 years and relying on private health care providers that would be paid by the government.

“Members of this Commission have stated that the present system of care is ‘broken’ and that there is no ‘efficient’ way to fix it,” BVA’s letter stated. “We believe that such broad generalizations do a disservice to those who have served their country and now need that country to step up and help them regain a place in its society.”

Avina petitioned the Commission to ensure that no harm is done to programs that provide essential benefits and services to the nation’s veterans in its zeal to deal with other health care providers who do not offer such essential care.

“We strongly urge this body to hold to the principles set forth in its interim report to Congress to produce recommendations that are data driven, decided by consensus, and focused on insuring that eligible veterans receive health care which offers optimal quality, access, and choice,” he said.

Avina also stated BVA’s position that the present health care system has changed the lives of countless veterans for the better, a fact that rarely makes headline news. “It is just as important to assure veterans that these essential programs and services will continue to be available as it is to assure them that the headline-generating problems will be resolved.”

He said that measures undertaken to transform the care provided to veterans should be adopted in a manner that does not inadvertently harm the most vulnerable or those with the greatest needs.

The Commission on Care was established in Section 202 by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to strategically examine how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources, and deliver health care to veterans in the next 20 years. Its final report to the President, the Congress, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is due no later than June 30.

Chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1958, BVA is the only Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving the needs of the nation’s blinded veterans and their families. The Association was founded in 1945 in Avon, Connecticut, by a group of approximately 100 World War II veterans blinded during their service.


Recent Posts

Project Gemini May 2016

Posted on 5/23/2016
Blinded Veterans Association BVA Blind Veterans UK to Again Host American Veterans in British Isles

Ranger Camp May 2016

Posted on 5/16/2016
Blinded Veterans Association BVA Blinded Veterans Again Persevere At Ranger Training Camp

Father Carroll Luncheon Address at 70th Convention

Posted on 4/27/2016
Blinded Veterans Association 70th Anniversary Convention Father Carroll Luncheon Address

Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp

Posted on 4/21/2016
BVA News Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp

Blinded Veterans Raise Concerns over Upcoming Commission on Care Report

Posted on 4/21/2016
BVA News Blinded Veterans Raise Concerns over Upcoming Commission on Care Report

BVA Government Relations Director to Chair NRTC Council

Posted on 2/26/2016
News BVA Government Relations Director to Chair NRTC Council

Looking Forward to Milwaukee Convention

Posted on 1/29/2016
Blinded Veterans Association BVA Milwaukee Convention

BVA Welcomes Adams as New Leader at AFB

Posted on 1/29/2016
Blinded Veterans Association BVA AFB