New York Regional Group, Director of District 1 – was elected to his current post in July 2015. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1948, he enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve 1967. Following basic training he attended reserve meetings, worked, and continued his college education at St. John’s University.

In October of 1969 Dennis began two years of active duty, attending a Class A Quartermaster School and engaging in UniTas XI War Games with the South American Navies. Shortly thereafter, he was deployed to Cuba’s south shore where Russia was starting to build a nuclear submarine base. Several weeks went by before the United States forced Russia to dismantle the base and the force could return home.

In May of 1971 Dennis was told that he was not hearing some orders and was sent over to the base hospital. When the hospital detected hearing loss, he was medivacked to Philadelphia Naval Hospital, where he was diagnosed with bilateral hearing lost. Upon leaving the hospital he learned also that something was wrong with his vision. He was then honorably discharged from the Navy with service connection for his hearing but no service connection for vision.

A month following his marriage to Marilyn Skalicky in August of 1974, Dennis was steering a boat at night when his father noticed that he did not see a bridge. During the months that followed, he went to several eye specialists who gave him a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Two years later he was also diagnosed with Macular Degeneration.

Dennis worked in Western Electric’s Accounting Department while continuing his education at Pace College at night. He graduated in 1980. His son, Dennis, was born in 1977 and daughter, Meghan, in 1980. Because the worsening of his vision he was forced to go on disability in July of 1981 and, as he puts it, became the original Mr. Mom.

From 1988 until 1995 Dennis accumulated more than 1,750 hours as a volunteer at the St. Albans VA Extended Care Center. He learned about the Blinded Veterans Association in 1987 and joined the organization immediately as a member of the New York Regional Group. He attended the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in 1993 for ten weeks and returned to receive “JAWS for DOS” computer training in 1994.

In 1996 Gerard McDonnell, Past National President and president of the New York Regional Group at the time, asked Dennis to reconstruct a regional group newsletter that had been dormant for several years. He agreed, beginning with one issue per year at first and then expanding to the current four times a year. The newsletter has continued uninterrupted ever since.

In 1998 Dennis was elected to the office of secretary of the regional group, serving for two years. He then did the same in the positions of vice president and president. When then president Fred Knapp became ill in early 2011, Dennis filled in as interim president and was later re-elected for two additional terms consecutively. He was the Chairman of the BVA 61st National Convention in Buffalo, New York, in 2006.
Dennis served as the Veteran Integrated Service Network 3 representative for BVA, allowing him the opportunity to speak on behalf of blinded veterans before the CARES Commission. In 2005 he was appointed by Governor George Pataki to serve for a three-year term on the State Rehabilitation Council and was later re-elected to serve an additional three-year term.

For his noteworthy service to his regional group and BVA generally Dennis received the Irving Diener Award at the BVA 65th National Convention in Arlington, Virginia, on August 28, 2010. 

Dennis O'Connell Smiling