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.


 BVA Government Relations Director to Chair NRTC Council (2/26/2016) 
   News BVA Government Relations Director to Chair NRTC Council

BVA Government Relations Director to Chair NRTC Council


Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Director of Government Relations Melanie Brunson has been selected as the incoming chair of the Advisory Council of the National Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University.

Brunson’s nomination and subsequent election to the post came during the Council’s annual business meeting February 11-12 in Starkville, Mississippi.

Established in 1981, the NRTC enhances employment and independent living outcomes for individuals who are blind or visually impaired through research, training, education, and dissemination of project findings. The NRTC is the only U.S Department of Health and Human Services-funded center focused on employment outcomes of persons with blindness or low vision. It is primarily funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

The Advisory Council that Brunson now chairs is composed of representatives from several of the 21 blindness organizations, including BVA, now partnering with the NRTC. Since the organizations represented interact with people with vision impairments throughout the country, the Council is able to offer a cross-section of input and direction on current NRTC projects funded from federal grants that relate to searching for, obtaining, and retaining employment.

“The NTRC is a very highly respected organization with a reputation for outstanding work in the blindness field,” said Brunson. “I have known of its work for many years and I am excited to work more closely with the Advisory Council.”

Brunson said that her new assignment will provide BVA and individual blinded veterans with the opportunity to participate in surveys and other projects leading to a greater impact on the results of research that will ultimately benefit the blind and visually impaired nationwide.

A licensed attorney, Brunson was appointed as BVA’s Director of Government Relations in October of 2015. She was previously the Executive Director of the American Council of the Blind (ACB).  She joined the ACB staff in August 1998, initially serving as the organization’s Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs. She moved to the Executive Director’s position in 2003.

The Blinded Veterans Association is the only congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to promoting the welfare of the Nation’s blinded veterans and their families. On March 28, 2016, the organization will mark 71 years of service. There is no charge for any BVA service rendered and membership in the organization is not a prerequisite for assistance. For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit bva.org.

 Looking Forward to Milwaukee Convention (1/29/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Milwaukee Convention

Looking Forward to Milwaukee Convention


The Blinded Veterans Association welcomes its members, guests, exhibitors, and volunteers alike to join us for our 71st National Convention . It’s time to start planning your trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 21st-26th, 2016 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center!  This year bids to be our best convention to date, we are seeking more exhibitors, speakers, and professionals in both the veteran and visual impaired communities to share their knowledge.  We also welcome knowledge from you, so don’t be afraid to share ideas about education sessions, devices, and exhibitors that you want to see at your convention. As an organization of blinded veterans helping blinded veterans our goal for this convention is to empower you with the most up to date knowledge, tools, and skills to achieve your goals.

So join us in Milwaukee! Registration will be open in May; if you wish to have a registration packet emailed to you or a hard copy mailed to you or please contact BVA National headquarters.  This year we are seeking more input from our membership as we develop the conference, generating ideas for education sessions and asking those who are confident in their skills to be our instructors.  If there is a device that you have been using and have a good understanding of how it functions and feel confident in teaching others please let us know.  Are you a great iPhone user and know some tricks of the trade then share your secrets with your fellow blinded veterans during half hour workshop.

Sessions will not be limited to just devices, we want you to share what your regional group is doing to be effective in your community, how you are advocating for your fellow blinded veterans, and overcoming challenges.  Per the request of our membership we will be holding officer training during the convention as well as a one hour session on White Cane Awareness Day.  Regional group members are also invited to host workshops on public relations, how to manage financials, and the innovative ways you are connecting with your members.  Share your knowledge with your fellow BVA members so as a whole we can bring more awareness to both the veteran and blind community through advocacy and outreach and together we can empower all blinded veterans.

  Those individuals who are interested in instructing a workshop on a device or another topic should contact the convention manager by the end of February.  Share your knowledge with your fellow blinded veterans! Education sessions and workshops will be held on Monday Tuesday and Friday morning following the closing business meeting. Tuesday will also feature the opening of the exhibit hall, last year the convention hosted its largest number of exhibitors ever, and looks to continue to increase exhibitor numbers in Milwaukee.  BVA Business meetings will close out the week along with the traditional closing Awards Banquet.  The annual Melvin J. Maas, David L. Schnair, Irving Diener, and Certificate of Appreciation awards will be handed out and nominations for these awards are currently being accepted until April 15th, 2016.  Those wishing to submit nominations should contact BVA National headquarters.

This year the BVA National Convention will be kicked off by the first annual, “VIPER Ride,” on August 21st.  VIPER, which stands for Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road, was the brainstorm of a group of Wisconsin Regional group members who sought to bring back the feeling of the open road to those with visual impairments.

After the kick-off there will be time during the convention to enjoy the city. Popularly known as the backdrop for the show, “Happy Days,” Milwaukee has been selected by the Boston Globe as a must see travel destination for 2016.  Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin and the fifth largest city in the Midwestern United States, but don’t let its size intimidate you Milwaukee is a beautiful compilation of charm, hospitality, and that small town neighborhood feel. Its easy layout and extensive Para-transit system will make navigating the city a cinch.  Travel to Milwaukee is a breeze; General Mitchell International Airport is a fifteen minute taxi ride away, and for those who prefer to travel via train or bus the station is just two blocks from the hotel.

It has been 50 years since BVA last held a convention in Wisconsin, and we look forward to bringing the 71st National Convention back to the city of Milwaukee and hope that you will join us there.

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