BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION (BVA)
FLORIDA REGIONAL GROUP, INC.
3801 Coco Grove Avenue
Miami, Florida 33133
Newsletter - January 2004
FRG Presidents Message: I would like to start off the New Year by explaining to our newly acquired Blinded Veterans, what the BVA is all about and just a very few of the services and benefits that the BVA has obtained for us over the years. I also feel that, from time to time, all Blinded Veterans need to be reminded of just how much work and dedication has gone into making the BVA what it has become today, by the BVs that came before us.
The BVA was founded in 1945 by a group of World War II Blinded Veterans, who rightly determined that if Blinded Veterans were to get the services and benefits they needed, they would have to join together to work with the Administration, Congress, and the VA. At that time, the VA operated no Blind Rehabilitation services for Blinded Veterans. There were no VA Blind Centers, no VIST Programs, or BROS. and few prosthetics and sensory aids for Blinded Veterans. The BVA worked with President Truman. Congress, and General Bradley, then head of the VA, to get Blind Rehabilitation Services established in the VA. The first VA Blind Rehab Center was established at Hines in 1948. All of the VA Blind Centers established since then, resulted from the efforts of the BVA with the VA and Congress. In the middle 1960s, the BVA and VA cooperated in a research project, started in Florida, which resulted in the establishment of the VIST Program in 1967. Initially, there were part time VIST Coordinators at 60 (2 in Florida) VA medical facilities. It quickly became apparent that there needed to be full time VIST Coordinators at most VA medical facilities to provide the services that BVs needed and deserved. Through the BVAs efforts, there are now 92 (9 in Florida) full time VIST Coordinators and 52 (4 in Florida) part time VIST Coordinators in the country. The BVA has secured, through Congressional legislation, changes in the issuance of prosthetics and sensory aids, for BVs, receiving treatment from VA medical facilities. In Florida, the FRG-BVA, working with other organizations, secured passage of legislation providing total Homestead Tax Exemption, without income limitation, to 100% service connected disabled veterans, and total Homestead Tax Exemption to individuals restricted to a wheelchair or who are legally blind, with an income limitation. These are only a very few of the hard won services and benefits that our BVA predecessors have acquired for us. Therefore, it is only prudent that we all continue to maintain the highest traditional standards of the BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION.
In closing, I would like to wish you all a Very Happy New year and encourage all Blinded Veterans that are interested in continuing to assist the BVA in its on-going efforts to maintain and enhance the benefits for Blinded Veterans, to become actively involved in the BVA. Remember, ask not what the BVA can do for me, - But what can I do for the BVA and my fellow Blinded Veterans. Terry King, FRG President.
FRG Auxiliary Presidents Message: This year has really flown by. I bet that is what everyone is saying. I, for one, can say that it is true. Before we know it, April 30th will be here and we will have our FRG State Convention in Daytona. I hope to see all of you there. I would like to make a suggestion. It is very difficult to find transportation, especially if you cant drive. Greyhound is good, as a last resort. Terry and I use it most of the time. Here in my location, at times, we have the advantage of utilizing the VA van. Perhaps this can be done in your area. Also, someone has told me, it isnt inconvenient to take someone with them in their car, because when they go, the back seat goes too. Why not? It is not too soon to start planning. That is my little food for thought this month.
I again would like to remind our family members, sponsors, and friends to join our Auxiliary. Peg Toomey, our FRG Auxiliary Treasurer, will be at our Tampa meeting. She will have applications handy and it will be a good opportunity for you to take advantage and join at that time.
AS I was trying to find a special topic for my message this month, I went on the Department of Veterans Affairs own computer page. If you havent been on the VA web site lately, I recommend it. There is a lot of interesting information, which concerns every veteran and their family. One interesting thing was a new Benefits Book, to read and down load on your computer. There is even a link called VA Kids and a new link called My Health. If you are like Terry and me, we have been trying to find the newest Benefit Book and there it is.
I would like to take this time to wish all of you a Very Happy New Year and may all of your dreams come true. Joanne King, FRG Auxiliary President.
FRG Meeting Notice: The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday February 7th, at the Enlisted Club at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The meeting will begin with a period of socializing at 11:30 AM, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch, you may have either Marinated Breast of Chicken or Sliced Roast Beef and Salad, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Vegetables, Rolls & Butter, Iced Tea or Coffee, and Dessert. The price of the lunch will be $5 per person, including tax and tip. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks will be available for an additional charge.
FRG President Terry King will preside at the meeting following lunch. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on hand to provide information about services and benefits of interest to BVs and their families. A National Legislative Up-Date will be presented. FRG activities for the remainder of the year, including the FRG State Convention, will be discussed. We urge you to share your suggestions and recommendations, regarding these plans. information about the FRG Auxiliary will be presented.
Due to tightened security at MacDill AFB, we must provide the Security Guards at the gate, a list of all who will be attending. In addition, the Enlisted Club has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be attending and the type of luncheon desired by February 4th. Please make your reservations prior to that date by writing to Central West District Director Bill Geden at: 622 East Forestbill Place, Hernando, FL 34442 or call Bill at: (352) 341-6875. In Clearwater, you may call Ben Wells at (727) 536-1762 or in St. Petersburg, call Tony Ramirez at (727) 321-5523. In addition, you may call Charles Nieberding, Tampa VAMC VIST Coordinator, at: (813) 972-7674 or toll free (888) 716-7787 ex 7674 or Bay Pines VIST Coordinator Marilyn Nolan at: (727) 398-6661 ex. 4516. The restaurant needs the reservation information in order to prepare properly for our meeting. Please enter the MacDill AFB Main Gate at the South Dale Mabray Highway entrance. Dale Mabray Highway is a North to South main artery which may be accessed from I 275 at exit 23 B. Those coming from the St. Petersburg or Clearwater areas may take the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Eisenhower Blvd., turn South and go to Kennedy Blvd., Then turn left and proceed Eastward to Dale Mabray Highway. Then, turn right and proceed Southward. The Air Force Base is a good 7 to 8 miles from I 275 or Kennedy Blvd. From the North, (Ocala etc.) I 75 or from the East (Orlando, etc.) on I 4, continue until they merge with I 275, then continue as above. You cannot miss MacDill AFB if you are going south on Dale Mabray, as that highway ends at the base. Continue through the Main Gate, bear left on North Boundary Road, follow it by the Exchange and Commissary to the third traffic light. Turn right at the light and the Enlisted Club should be on your immediate right. Parking is available adjacent to the Club. Begin planning now and bring another Blinded Veteran with you and join us at the MacDill AFB Enlisted Club on Saturday, February 7th. We need your suggestions and look forward to meeting you there.
US Legislative Up-Date: In the December FRG Newsletter, we reported that the Senate and House of Representatives had passed appropriations measures for the Department of Veterans Affairs which differed in the amount provided for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Subsequently, a Conference Committee met to reconcile the differences. A compromise was reached and the appropriation included in an omnibus Appropriations bill covering all of the Departments and Agencies in the government. The House passed that Omnibus Appropriations bill but the Senate did not.
Prior to their recess on December 12th, the Senate and House of Representatives completed action on the MediCare prescription measure. That measure was passed by both the Senate and House and signed by the President. Then the senate and House passed Continuing Resolutions (CR) to fund the government through January 20th. When Congress returns after the holidays, it will have to complete action on the Omnibus Appropriations bills.
It is understood, that the 2.1 % Cost of Living Adjustment for VA Compensation, Pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and Social Security benefits took effect in December. Consequently, this COLA should appear in your January checks.
During much of 2003 Congress was involved in the war in Iraq and the MediCare Prescription Drug bill. Consequently the time spent on the appropriations for other departments and agencies was reduced. it is hoped that when Congress returns in January, it will fulfill its responsibilities and complete action on the Omnibus Appropriations bill.
Florida Total Homestead Tax Exemption Reminder: Its that time of year again. At this time, each year, we remind Blinded Veterans of two Total Homestead Tax Exemption Statutes available to qualified individuals in Florida. This may be old information to some of you. However, we have many Blinded Veterans move into Florida each year. In addition,, with Floridas older population, many veterans lose their vision each year. Consequently, we are including this information in this Newsletter. The Florida Regional Group worked many years to obtain and improve these benefits.
FS 196.081 provides a total Homestead Tax Exemption to 100% service connected disabled veterans. The exemption has no income limitation. In the event of the veterans death, the exemption is continued to the surviving spouse, as long as he or she does not remarry. In the past the spouse would have to remain in the same home to continue the exemption. Several years ago, the statute was amended and the surviving spouse may keep the exemption on that home or a different home as long as the new home is assessed at the same or a lower amount. To qualify for this exemption, a veteran should obtain a statement from the VA Regional Office certifying that be or she is a 100% service connected disabled veteran. Take that certificate to the County Tax Appraisers Office before March 1st. This total Homestead Exemption will be renewed each year. If you have qualified for this Total Exemption in the past and have not received notification of the renewal by the end of January, contact your County Tax Appraiser~ s Office.
FS 196.101 provides a Total Homestead Tax Exemption to certain individuals who are restricted to a wheelchair for mobility ~ who are legally blind. This total Exemption has a total household income limitation of $21,755 in 2003. FS 196.101 has a provision which provides an annual increase in the income limitation equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index. It is probable that this amount will be increased by about 2.1 % for 2004. To qualify, obtain a statement from two Florida licensed Ophthalmologists stating that you are legally blind. Take the statement to your County Tax appraisers Office before March 1st. You will be required to certify your income annually to maintain the Total Homestead Tax Exemption under FS 196.101
Please join us at the next FRG meeting on Saturday, February 7th, at the Enlisted Club at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Remember to make your reservations for that meeting by calling Bill Geden, Ben Wells, Tony Ramirez, Charles Nieberding, or Marilyn Nolan by February 4th. If you make a reservation and cant come, please call one of the above and cancel, so that we wont have to pay for meals not used. Bring a fellow Blinded Veteran and make an afternoon of it. Join us for a most interesting, informative, and enjoyable time at the MacDill Air Force Base Enlisted Club. The FRG need your ideas and suggestions. We look forward to meeting you in Tampa on February 7th.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
February 7th FRG meeting at the MacDill AFB Enlisted Club Tampa
March 13th FRG Meeting - Elks Club in Pompano Beach
April 30 - May 2 FRG State Convention in Daytona Beach Shores
August 10-14 BVA National Convention in Reno, Nevada
Joanne King FRG Auxiliary President
George Stocking Editor