BVA / BVUK Pursue Joint Ocular Trauma Task Force

The Blinded Veterans Association and Blind Veterans UK, already partners for some nine years in a series of initiatives that include residential and recreational rehabilitation, mentorship, and adaptive technology through Project Gemini, are now joining forces in an effort to gain support for a United States-United Kingdom Joint Ocular Trauma Task Force (JOTTF)
that could move eye and vision research to even greater heights within the two countries and internationally.

Dr. Robert Mazzoli, U.S. Army Col. (Ret), former consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army and a current member of the BVA Legislative Committee, is also working with a group of military and civilian eye trauma university ophthalmologists to establish the American Society of Ophthalmic Trauma (ASOT) and have recently filed articles of incorporation. The new ASOT has some prominent representation, including the Wilmer Eye Institute from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University in New York City, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

As mentioned in the March-April Bulletin, BVUK Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Renata Gomes accompanied BVA’s Legislative Committee on a series of visits with Members of Congress and Committee Staff members responsible for defense and veterans’ issues February 24-28. The group divided into two groups to maximize the time available.

Dr. Gomes’ group, which included Tom Zampieri, held a briefing at the British Embassy
with senior defense staff. There was also a meeting at the Walter Reed National Military Medical
Center.

The following week, March 2-6, Tom and Dr. Gomes were joined in the United Kingdom by James Jorkasky, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), for BVUK’s Research Week. Accompanied by BVUK President Nick Caplin at several points during the week, the group informed senior UK officials, American Embassy London Defense Staff, leaders in UK research, and other UK-based Veterans Service Organizations of the desire of the two organizations to promote research together in the two countries. The group also visited with Rand Europe Chief Executive Officer Hans Pung, University of Oxford Professor Russell Foster, and Confederation of British Service and ExService Organizations (COBSEO) Director of Operations Ian Cawes.

A major purpose of all the meetings, in both the United States and the United Kingdom, was to take the effort even a step further, garnering support for U.S.-UK JOTTF that could enhance the research efforts in both countries. The task force has been recommended by UK defense officials as a means of advancing ocular trauma care and research. Emerging from a 2017 Joint U.S.-UK Task Force Charter establishing an international partnership to advance interoperability between the allied military services, the U.S. government has not yet supported the task force.

“Our two nations fought together, and our veterans have rehabilitated together,” Tom has said. “Now let us research together.” Indeed, the British and American military have experienced more than a century of shared battlefield experience. This includes ocular casualty care that began with the early treatment guidance provided by the UK in World War I and rehabilitation programs for World War I wounded American soldiers at what was then known as St Dunstan’s and now BVUK  since 2012. The shared experience was extended to UK guidance in the establishment of the first U.S.-based vision rehabilitation programs through the then Veterans Administration (VA) with the establishment of the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center.

“Part of the ongoing Project Gemini goals of fostering continued relationships between the allied nations has been highlighting the importance of vision rehabilitation services, improving military trauma management, and ocular trauma research,” said Tom. “This great effort reflects the best example of the efforts of two non-overnmental nonprofit organizations in support of our service members and veterans, along with their families, which began in May 2011 with the first Project Gemini exchange.”

Tom has also emphasized BVA’s collaborative efforts with additional organizations in this new frontier of international research, including but not limited to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the American Optometric Association (AOA), NAEVR, and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

“The really important thing emerging from our recent work is that BVA is now widely regarded in the UK and here in the United States among professional medical organizations for taking a lead in advocating for vision research and effectively networking with many organizations that are part of this field,” Tom said