Operation Peer Support (OPS) is a program that was designed by the Blinded Veterans Association to support the hundreds of men and women that were returning to the United States blinded or experiencing significant visual impairment in connection with their service fighting the Global War on Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). However, over the years our program has widened its participation to all eras of visually impaired veterans. These events have significantly impacted many veterans’ lives by assisting them with accomplishing and overcoming challenges through rehabilitation.
Kennan Horn, Chair
Brian Harris, Vice-Chair
Joe Amerling, Honorary Member
Women's Veteran Subcommittee
Marlene Davis-Lilly, Chair
Sharon Giovinazzo, Vice-Chair
Erin McConnell, HQ Staff
Guide Dog Subcommittee
Paul Mimms, Chair
Eric Martz, Vice-Chair
Stories of Past Events
In January 2020, eight members of BVA went to the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS) winter program for three days of skiing and snowboarding. They stayed in the new STARS Ranch facility and each veteran had two instructors to assist them in learning to ski, snowboard, or simply improve the skills they already possessed. Everyone left Steamboat more tired than when they arrived but full of the energy that only comes with knowing that you can always push yourself a little further than you thought. Strong bonds were made stronger through a common challenge and the idea that we are all better having spent this time together.
To end the 2019 season of events for the Operation Peer Support Program, three of our blinded veteran members took part in a partnership event with the Heroes New Hope Foundation in Sullivan, Indiana. This deer hunting clinic allowed members Darryl Goldsmith, Zachary Tidwell, and Nate Harrison to learn effective deer hunting techniques along with vision loss. We are proud that all three members were able to succeed at hunting a deer and enjoyed the camaraderie of learning from one another as blinded veterans. Thanks HEROES NEW HOPE.
Three BVA members participated in the 2019 Major Rob Soltes Golf Tournament, National BVA President, Dr. Thomas Zampieri, Brian Harris, and Adam Rowland. This annual fundraising event for the BVA’s Operation Peer Support Program gave these blinded veterans the opportunity to memorialize Major Rob Soltes optometry efforts for the veterans and to promote the awareness of the Blinded Veterans Association. With continuous support from BVA’s volunteer Tom Clark it was another successful year of funding for the Operation Peer Support Program in order to further assist blinded veterans of BVA.
With major support from the U.S. Army Mountain Ranger Association, members of the Blinded Veterans Association hiked over 80 miles of the North Carolina Appalachian Trail. BVA participants consisted of the following: Daniel Wallace, Lonnie Bedwell, and Ken Horn. During this event the veterans hiked over 12 miles a day, camped overnight, and survived off rations of food similar to sustainment of an Army Ranger. Joe Amerling, BVA Honorary Member, along with BVA member Ken Horn established support and obtained sponsorship for this event. The participants accomplished the mission, motivated many veterans to keep striving through rehabilitation with vision loss, and brought awareness to the Blinded Veterans Association.
Project Gemini is an exchange program between BVA and Blind Veterans UK (BVUK) where twice a year, members from each organization travel to the host country for comradery, adaptive sports, tours, and exchange of information and resources.
In October 2019, four BVA members and their sighted guides had the opportunity to collaborate with our BVUK veterans during the US exchange in Birmingham, AL. Participants for this event were Marlene Davis-Lilly, Raquel Welch, Adrian Mohammed, and Lonnie Bedwell. During this exchange program participants learned coping mechanisms from one another on dealing with vision loss, the resources for the visually impaired through the Department of Veteran Affairs, and engaged in adaptive sports at the Lakeshore Foundation.
Additionally, the veterans had the opportunity to tour local attractions such as the following: Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, Southern Museum of Flight, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, and Eyesight Foundation of Alabama/Callahan Eye Foundation at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB). This event was fortunate to have many sponsors for meals and we were very appreciative for BVA’s Honorary Member, Joe Amerling, for obtaining a donation from the Southern Veterinarian Partners towards the Operation Peer Support Program.