Joseph D. McNeil, Sr., Georgia Regional Group, was born in 1958 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-Westside. He was the oldest of seven brothers and sisters and the first in his family to graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and a Master’s Degree in Human Resources.
After graduating from high school, Mr. McNeil joined the Army National Guard and worked his way through college, joining the Army ROTC program. Upon graduation, he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Field Artillery. His duty assignments included 2nd Infantry Division Korea, 42nd FA Brigade, V Corps G3 Operations Germany, 197th Infantry Brigade Fort Benning and 18th Airborne Corps Fort Bragg. He held numerous staff jobs during his tenure. Upon his diagnosis in October 1989 of Retinitis Pigmentosa, he was processed off of active duty as a Captain after which he re-enlisted in the Georgia Army National Guard and served for four years before his vision prevented him from doing his assigned duties as Personnel Staff Noncommissioned Officer.
Mr. McNeil is a multi-graduate of three different blind centers. He joined the Blinded Veterans Association in 2005 and has held the position of Georgia Regional Group vice president. He was president of the Columbus Chapter of the group from 2005 to 2007 and simultaneously the Georgia Regional Group secretary. He was the Georgia Regional Group President from 2007 until 2015. In 2015 he was elected BVA National Treasurer, serving until 2017. He then served a term as Secretary during 2017-19 and will now serve as the organization’s National Vice President until 2021.
Since his professional retirement, Mr. McNeil has become an accomplished entrepreneur, father of six, and grandfather of four. He serves his community by sitting on numerous boards representing the blind community as an ambassador, especially for blinded veterans and their capabilities. He has membership in multiple service and civic organizations and is a certified National Veterans Service Officer (NVSO) for BVA.
Some favorite mottoes one may hear from Mr. McNeil include: “Information is Knowledge, Knowledge is Power, and Power Wielded properly is an awesome Weapon,” and “Perception is not Reality.” You can find him speaking to civic groups and churches about blindness and the help that is available to those with vision loss.
Paul Mimms, Missouri Regional Group, was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1960. He graduated eighth in his class from the city’s Central High School in 1963.
Paul briefly attended Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio) before induction into the U.S. Navy on May 16, 1966. He served shore duty in San Diego at the Naval Training Center and the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center. He was aboard the USS Luzerne County in the Mekong Delta. An accident on the ship led to early onset of glaucoma and his medical discharge in 1969.
Paul worked in the restaurant industry and in retail management before increasing blindness led to loss of employment in 1983. Following blind rehabilitation training in Kansas City and his enrollment at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center (Hines, Illinois), Paul returned to college in 1986. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at the University of Missouri Kansas City and Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1991 from the University of Kansas.
He began working for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1992 at the Kansas City Vet Center and later went to work at the West Palm Beach BRC in 2000. In 2004 he was selected as a VIST Coordinator at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. He was active in the Florida Regional Group while working at West Palm Beach, serving as a District Director within the group, Vice President, and President.
Paul retired in 2009 and returned to Kansas City, where he almost immediately became involved in the rejuvenation of the Missouri Regional Group where he was originally a charter member. Paul served as both Secretary and President of the group until his election to national office on August 23, 2013.
Ms. Holmes has been an active member of the Georgia Regional Group Columbus Chapter since September 2015. In November 2015, she was appointed chapter secretary. In January 2016, the regional group president asked if she would be willing to serve as the secretary of the entire body, which she gladly accepted and has not relinquished, even with her election as National Treasurer.
Ms. Holmes began assisting in successful state conventions beginning in 2016. She is one to voice her opinion and is always willing to help in proofreading written matter dealing with the regional group. She has also recorded and submitted state convention requirements in a timely manner. She has many attributes that have resulted in the success of the Georgia Regional Group.
In the chapter setting, Ms. Holmes organized the chapter members to participate in the March of Dimes Walk in 2016. She has been an independent participant in the walk herself since 2005. To bring community awareness to the Columbus Chapter, she asked its members if they would support her. In 2017, the Columbus Chapter then walked as a team. In 2018, with even greater participation, the March of Dimes presented the group with a plaque for its $1,350 donation. To date, the Chapter has raised some $3,500 for the March of Dimes. Ms. Holmes has made herself available and accessible to all regional group members. She keeps three other chapter secretaries abreast of their duties as well. This attention includes one-on-one training in needed areas. While attending the Blind Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham, Alabama, she recruited eight new members.
Ms. Holmes was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Ordnance specialty in 1976. She holds the record for the largest number of firsts: she was the first female to be commissioned in the Chicago area, she was first in her university, and she was among the first group of women to attend summer camp at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1975.
Liz’s first duty assignment was at Fort Bliss, Texas, where she worked as the Assistant Battalion Maintenance Officer (S4) and as the company’s Executive Officer. She later became the Transportation Officer for the 2/52 ADA Battalion, a mobile missile company. In 1979, she became the Shop Officer in Korea for the 595th Maintenance Company. Her position included travel throughout Korea visiting supported units.
In 1981, Ms. Holmes was assigned as the S4 Officer in the 701st Ordnance Battalion and later joined the Division Material Management Center (DMMC) until her reassignment to the General Staff in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1986, Ms. Holmes was assigned to Foreign Science Technology System (FSTS).
Ms. Holmes attended both the Basic and Advance Ordnance Course and Airborne School during her Army career. She retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2014 due to her loss of sight. During her tenure as a postal worker, however, she worked in nearly every craft. She was a member of four different unions, representing each craft with which she worked. While a member of the American Postal Workers Union, she held the position of secretary for three years and that of State Coordinator for the Post Officer Women for Equal Rights (POWER), representing Georgia at national conventions.
Retired with 36 years and one month of federal service, Ms. Holmes is a widow with two grown children: Bianca, a registered nurse, and Benjamin, a Mechanical Engineer. She has one grandchild, Scarlett. She is on the Mayor’s Commission for People with Disability Executive Board and attends monthly meetings advocating awareness for the disabled. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies and a Master’s Degree in Human Relations at DePaul University.
While in Germany, Ms. Holmes became a member of the Masonic Family, holding a position in five Auxiliary houses. As a hobby, she crochets blankets and other items that can be used as gifts. She has donated blankets to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Silent Auction for the past three years. She also has enrolled in the Hadley School for the Blind to refresh herself in Spanish conversation and will be taking Excel and Braille courses in the near further.
Ms. Holmes has been a member of the National Society of Pershing Rifles since 1975 a membership she proudly shares with General Colin Powell.
Tracy Ferro was born on October 15, 1962, in New York City to Ralph and June Ferro. In 1980, he graduated from Clarkstown Senior High School South, located in West Nyack 18 miles north of New York, and joined the United States Air Force at the age of 17.
After completing basic training and bypassing technical school, Mr. Ferro was assigned to the 90th Strategic Missile Wing, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. Initially assigned to the General Purpose Vehicle Maintenance Shop, he was later selected to be on the Mobile Maintenance Team due to his mechanical skills and ability to think outside the box and with minimal supervision while he was still junior in rank.
In 1982, Mr. Ferro received orders to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where once again he was put in the Mobile Maintenance position and as supervisor of the Minor Maintenance Shop. He took on a part-time job teaching Vehicle Maintenance for City Colleges of Chicago and worked his way up to Staff Sergeant.
In 1986, he was ordered to Chanute Airforce Base, Illinois to become an instructor for the 3340th Technical Training Group. Having never gone through any type of technical training in the Air Force, Mr. Ferro brought a new perspective to the program and was one of only two instructors to be fully qualified to teach the entire basic course, every advanced course, and both Mobile Training Team courses. During his last year and a half he performed technical training in the field at more than 25 different air bases throughout the world.
Mr. Ferro longed to return to Germany and in 1990 was able to do so, having been assigned to the 606th Tactical Control Squadron and later transitioning to an Air Control Squadron. He started out as a Vehicle Mechanic at Basdahl Complex in northern Germany, living on Karl Schurz Kaserne in Bremerhaven. In 1992, he moved with the unit to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, which was soon to close as a result of drawdowns. In 1994, the unit was once again assigned to a new base, Spangdahlem Air Base, 20 miles away. During his tenure at the 606th he was promoted twice and went from being a Vehicle Mechanic to taking charge of the Combat Readiness Branch, which included Vehicle Maintenance and Operations, Security and Armory, Disaster Preparedness, Mobility, and the Independent Duty Medical Technicians. He was responsible for setting up unit level and individual deployments throughout the European Theatre and deployed all or part of the unit to a northern location as far north as to Tromso, Norway, and as far south as Lecce, Italy, Zaragoza, Spain, and Poznan, Poland. In his capacity as Combat Readiness Superintendent, he was responsible for more than $350 million in equipment at different times.
In 2010, Mr. Ferro retired from the Air Force and moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he married Kathy and took on being a father to Matthew. He worked as a mechanic in Biloxi for ten years until his vision became so bad that he could no longer fix vehicles safely and drive, transitioning into a life of without sight.
Mr. Ferro first went attended the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS) Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in December 2015 and has returned on an inpatient basis two additional times. He enjoyed the program so much that he decided to volunteer in any capacity possible. As a BVA member in Mississippi, he was contacted by the Louisiana Regional Group with a proposal to merge the two groups. After working with the Louisiana leadership for a year, he was asked to run for president of the combined regional groups in 2019. He won that election and was re-elected in 2020 and 2021. He was also selected as the BVA representative for the GCVHCS BRC and a Deputy National Representative for VA Volunteer Services, now known as the Center for Development and Civic Engagement. At the same time, he worked toward his Veteran Service Officer certification.
Mr. Ferro has written several articles for the BVA Bulletin and has sat on numerous committees. He believes firmly in helping blinded veterans, regardless of where they live, and enjoys helping veterans who are not blind but who need assistance. He enjoys woodworking, traveling, teaching, and spending as much time as possible with the "love of his life"; his “beautiful bride,” Kathy!
I am a United States Army Veteran of the Vietnam era and honored to be a member of the 1978 Women in the Army - Published Study Group Report to Congress.
I began losing my sight in 1996 and in 1999 I joined BVA through the Pennsylvania Regional Group. Shortly thereafter I was elected as president of the group and have since held several positions, including my current position as secretary.
I also served on the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council for several years and was a governors’ appointment to the advisory board at the Southeastern Veterans Center in Pennsylvania under two different governors.
I have earned two Master’s Degrees: a Master of Science in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, and a Master of Science in Education – Teaching Students with Special Needs. I am currently enrolled in a certificate program for Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist for Individuals with Visual Impairments (CATIS) at Western Michigan University.
I have previously worked for the BVA as an Appeals Consultant and National Field Service Officer. In 2021, I left the Lebanon VA Medical Center VISOR Program after working as a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist, Computer Access Technology Instructor.
I continue to work to help veterans and I am currently a mentor of young students in the VA Student Leadership Council working to help future leaders become empowered to help Veterans.
I am proud to relate that my great aunt, Major Catherine “Cass” G. Landry, WAC (Women’s Army Corps), served in the historic 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II. She was the only female service member in the family until I joined. However, my dad, uncles, and brothers all served in the Army except for one brother, who had to be a Marine!
My name is Brian Harris I served 8 years in the united states army. I was deployed to Bosnia, Bright start Egypt and Iraq before I was retired Corporal in the year of 2005. I was currently assigned as operation peer support committee member as well, as vice president of the Illinois regional group. I currently hold these titles and is humbled to be assigned the position district director II of the Blinded Veterans Association.
My name is Jose R. Rivera Barris, born and raised in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in a small eastern town called Naguabo. I still live in my hometown and near the same house in which I grew up.
I am a high school graduate of the Antilles Military Academy, located within my archipelago of islands. I entered the University of Puerto Rico and in my last semester I received a letter from the Board of the Selective Service Office in which I was informed that I was being drafted into military service. I served two years as an interpreter with a Secret Clearance and made E-5 in 15 months after facing a board panel.
In 1971, I completed my military service and returned to my hometown. I then went back to the University of Puerto Rico, finishing my Bachelor of Arts with a major in Political Science. I continued my studies and finished two more majors, Accounting and Finance. My academic studies exposed me to two different worlds, one of theory and the other practical and more rigid.
I am detailing my studies because I was born to a middle-class working family. My parents always told my brother and me that they would not leave us money but that they would pay for a good education for us, which we received!
This is the background that I am offering as a plus as I occupy the position of Director of District Director 3 in the Southeast Region. I will need the support of all the members of the Region. WE ARE A TEAM!!!
Kevin M. Jackson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1982 where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He entered the US Marine Corps in 1977 and served 1978 and 1979 on Active Duty. Upon discharge from Active Duty, Kevin served with various US Marine Corps Reserve Units. He was activated in January of 1991 to serve with 1st Marine Force Service Support Group in support of 1st Marine Division. While in Kuwait, he sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury as well as losing his left eye and being blinded in his right eye as a result of working with faulty Saudi Arabian equipment. Kevin received his Honorable Discharge in April of 1995.
Kevin joined Cadillac Motor Car Division in 1982 and served as a Service Engineer for chassis systems and also served as a District Service Manager. Upon his return from participating in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, he joined the Service Technology Group of GM where he was an Automotive Instructor. He last served with the Customer An Relations Services Group of GM. Kevin is retired from GM having served 24 years.
Kevin also participates in a variety of volunteer activities. Including volunteering at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic as well as the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, which is the State of Texas Blind Rehabilitation Center for Adults. He also volunteers with the City of Austin, mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities as well as the Texas Workforce Commissions, Purchasing from People with Disabilities Advisory Committee.
Kevin joined the Blinded Veterans Association in 1991 and is also a member of the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Dr. Ron Lester was born and raised in southern Oklahoma. He proudly served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968, spending one year in Vietnam. He is a disabled veteran with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease resulting in total blindness. Despite this challenge, Dr. Lester earned a bachelor’s degree in business, a master’s degree in elementary education, and a doctoral degree in educational administration. He has trained with concentrations in pastoral administration and financial counseling. Dr. Lester is an ordained minister and a member of the National Fellowship of Chaplains. He currently serves as chaplain for the Disabled American Veterans National Blind Chapter No. 1 and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) nationally, providing updates for the Chaplain’s Corner of the DAV newsletter, composing the Chaplain’s Corner for the BVA Bulletin, personally contacting veterans who are ill, and checking in on other veterans who need encouragement. He served four years as a volunteer service officer with BVA, assisting veterans with filing disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Lester hosts an online radio program, Special Needs Watch, on bpnradio.com each Thursday, during which he interviews special guests from throughout the United States. He also shares a Sunday sermon each week on the same network. Prior to moving to Tucson in 2006, Dr. Lester was pastor and overseer of a church and Christian school in Gardena, California. He has more than 45 years of combined experience in pastoring churches, establishing bus ministry and Christian education programs, and acting as principal and administrator in successful Christian schools. He has ministered in the pulpit and assisted with church building in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Philippines, and Mexico.Dr. Lester is the author of two books about his life and experience losing his vision. The first, I’m Blind: What’s Your Excuse, was published in May 2014 (ISBN-10: 1629525634). The second, The Day the Lights Went Out, was published in January 2015 (ISBN-10: 1498422780). Both books were published by Xulon Press and are available on Amazon. Dr. Lester is currently working on his next book about what it means to have grit when facing life’s challenges.Dr. Lester has been married to his wife, Betty, for more than 50 years. He is the proud father of two sons and grandfather of eight. He enjoys tandem biking with his son, Rob. The two of them are together restoring a 1965 Ford Mustang.
Brian O’Connell grew up near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, graduated from Norwich University in Vermont, and entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant in 1976. He served three tours as a B-52 electronic warfare officer and performed additional duties as an academic and flight instructor, operations staff officer, air liaison officer, program manager, and squadron commander.
During his 26 years of active-duty service, Brian served in several combat theaters. These included Operations Just Cause in Panama, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Uphold Democracy in Haiti, Joint Guard in Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, he worked in the defense industry before being recalled to active duty in 2002. After reverting to retirement in 2006, he rejoined the defense industry for a couple of years before finally deciding to teach high school kids in rural North Carolina. For the next eight years, he taught Air Force Junior ROTC and enjoyed every minute of it. His visual impairment, caused by glaucoma, forced him to retire in 2016. He now lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
Brian joined BVA in 2020 after attending a residential VA blind rehabilitation program. He has also become involved in adaptive sports since 2020 with fellow BVA members and has taken advantage of opportunities to ski and hike. He looks forward to participating in many similar activities in the future. He and his wife, Sue, have three adult children and three grandchildren.
Dr. Thomas Zampieri served three years of active duty as an Army Medic from 1972 to 1975. He retired as an Army Major from the National Guard after 22 years of service in August 2000, having worked as a military flight surgeon for 13 years. Dr. Zampieri graduated from Hahnemann Medical University Physician Assistant Program in June 1978 and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from State University of New York. He received a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, in May 2003 and completed his Political Science Ph.D. with Lacrosse University in December 2005.
For 25 years, Dr. Zampieri worked in a variety of clinical settings as a Physician Assistant in private practice, university medical centers, and for the Department Veterans Affairs in three different VA Medical Centers. He co-authored medical journal research articles and presented medical lectures nationally, including three national medical teleconferences. He served in various leadership roles and on various committees in the Physician Assistant field, resulting in extensive work on Capitol Hill over the years.
From 1988 to 1993, Dr, Zampieri was a member of the Federal Services Task Force in the American Academy of Physician Assistants. In May of 2000 he was honored as the Federal Physician Assistant of the Year by the Academy.
Legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa and medically retired from VA since 2001, Dr. Zampieri was serving as the secretary of the BVA Greater Houston Regional Group when he was hired to be the Director of Government Relations at BVA National Headquarters. He served in the position from April 25, 2005 until November 22, 2013. Known for his tenacity and passion in the position, Dr. Zampieri was instrumental in the growth of BVA’s Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini British Exchange initiatives. Dr. Zampieri, his wife Ginger, and daughter Jazmin now reside in Pearland, Texas.
Tonora Lyn Shannon is a U.S. Navy Veteran, having served seven years on active duty during the Persian Gulf War era. She was a Data Processor Technician aboard two Submarine Tenders, the USS L.Y. Spear AS-36 (Norfolk, Virginia) and the USS Frank Cable AS-40 (Charleston, South Carolina).
Tonora was also stationed at the Ship Intermediate Maintenance Command in Norfolk. Following her military service, she worked as an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs at the John D. Dingell (Detroit) VA Medical Center, the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, and the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center.
As a now retired VA employee, Tonora has most recently served simultaneously in the Vice President and Secretary positions within BVA’s Michigan Regional Group.