3801 Coco Grove Avenue  
Miami, Florida 33133
NEWSLETTER - January 2006


           FRG President's Message:  Seasons Greetings!  Looking back over last year, we find that a lot was accomplished but there is still much to do in 2006. In this Newsletter, I would like to concentrate on bringing you up to date with some of the services that not only the VA has but also the BVA.  As we explored back through the history of the BVA, we found out that the BVA is primarily responsible for obtaining the services that are currently available for Blinded Veterans.  Now, let us take advantage of all the benefits that the Blinded Veteran working through the BVA has obtained for us down through the years.  With all of the advertising, Bulletins, pamphlets, and Newsletters, that the BVA distributes every year, we are still finding Blinded Veterans moving down to Florida, that have never heard of the Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Program, and/or Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS).  The VIST Coordinator is your first step in obtaining such things as: medical care, annual physical examinations, prescriptions, various aids and devices to assist you in your daily activities, and computer training.  The VIST Coordinator is your contact for referrals to the Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRC) and help in pointing you in the right direction for other personal services about which you may not be aware.  The BRC's available fore Blinded Veterans is one of the most beneficial programs available for a Blinded Veteran.  At these facilities, not only do you receive valuable training in a residential setting but you also receive hands on training on all of the aids and devices which can help you in your daily life.  The foregoing is only a few of the services that the VA provides.  So, contact your VIST Coordinator for further information or contact a member of your Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) - Florida Regional Group (FRG)Board of Directors. 


     Now, let me briefly touch on the responsibilities and duties of the BVA in its function as a veterans service organization.  After obtaining the special services for the Blinded Veteran  through hard won legislation and work with the VA Central Office, one of the most important functions of the BVA is to make sure that we do not start sliding back in so far as benefits and services to Blinded Veterans are concerned.  Don't ever forget that every organization of the federal government is constantly advocating for their annual budget before Congress.  Therefore, the BVA's primary responsibility is a never ending one.  Annually the BVA goes before Congress, and advocates for new services and for the current services to be maintained.  The BVA National Headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., which permits the staff to stay in touch with daily activities of the Senate and House of Representatives.  The BVA also has Field Service Representatives that file claims and perform other services for Blinded Veterans.  Space limits the amount of information we can disseminate in a Newsletter.  However, let me explain one more of our other functions.  The BVA has the responsibility of monitoring the services that the BV's are receiving and see to it that all of the services that are available are given to each and every BV that is eligible.  In Florida, we are very fortunate that we have experienced very little problems with services to our Blinded Veterans.  Aside from the fact that we have well qualified VIST Coordinator, the cooperation between the FRG and VIST Coordinators has been excellent.  As long as the current level of cooperation is maintained between the    VIST and BVA-FRG we feel that Florida  shall continue to stand out as an example to the rest of the nation.  In closing this President's Message, I would like to make an observation concerning our local computer training.  If any BV is currently receiving computer training in a local facility paid for by the VA and does not have a computer at their home or has not been provided a loaner by other means, for the purpose of practicing between their classes, we would like to be contacted, so this can be corrected.  There are few instances when a BV is taking training and does not have a computer to practice on at home.  It is unproductive for a BV to receive training paid for by the VA and not have the means of practicing while he or she is at home.  The most practical way to solve this problem is for the facility where the BV is receiving training to provide a loaner computer while training is underway.  After all, the VA is paying for the training and if the veteran is successful in the training, the VA will provide a computer for the BV permanently.  I look forward to meeting you at our next District meeting on February 4 at the MacDill AFB Enlisted Club in Tampa.  Terry King, FRG President.                                         

     FRG Auxiliary President's Message:  To all of the Blinded Veterans' spouses.  This is an informative message.  Did you know that you might be eligible for CHAMPVA benefits?  What is CHAMPVA?  If you are married to a 100% service connected veteran, you and your children might be eligible for health coverage through the VA, with no premiums , very small deductible, and only a 25% co-payment.  Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  What is DIC?  DIC is a monthly benefit paid to the survivors of a member of the military killed on active duty or who died as a result of a service connected condition.  In addition, DIC is payable to the survivors of veterans, who were rated at 100% service connected for 10 years (5 years if continuously following discharge) at the time of their death.  Check it out for more in depth information .  If a spouse's income is very low, he or she may be eligible for additional income from the government.  Check it out.  Did you know what are the burial benefits?  The survivor of a veteran who dies of a non service connected condition might receive $600 toward burial costs.  If the veteran dies of a service connected condition, you might receive up to $1500 toward burial costs.  Please check it out for yourself to receive a more complete answer.  These are just a few items that I wanted to bring to your attention.  As I have said before, I am not an expert on this information but it is definitely food for thought.  You may call the VA Hot Line number at (800) 827-1000 for more information about the above topics and other data.  See you at the next FRG meeting at the MacDILL Enlisted Club.  Joanne King FRG Auxiliary President.


          FRG Meeting Notice:  The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday February 4, 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, 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 BV's and their families.  FRG activities for the remainder of the year, including the FRG State Convention, will be discussed.  Information about the FRG Auxiliary will be presented. 


     IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  Security has been significantly tightened at the MacDill Air Force Base where we will hold the next meeting of the Florida Regional Group.  As a result, no one will be admitted to the base who has not previously been cleared.  Individuals with valid Military ID cards will be admitted.  Otherwise, one of the following information items must be provided in advance, for each person attending, so that BV's and their guests can be admitted to the base:  1.  Full name with middle initial, Social Security number and date of birth;  2.  Driver's license number, full name, and state issued;  3.  Non driver's Identification number with full name and state of issue.  This is a tightened security requirement.  Below you will find the names and phone numbers of the individuals taking reservations and ID information.  Please give one of the above indicated ID information, along with the type of luncheon desired, so that we can provide the required information to the security guards and to the Enlisted  Club. 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 1.  Please make your reservations prior to that date by writing to Central West District Director   Willie Menendez at:  10 Lemington Court, Homasassa, FL 34446 or by calling Willie at:  (352) 382-2314.  In St. Petersburg call James Spooner at:  (727) 347-8042, in Clearwater, call Ben Wells at (727) 536-1762.  In addition, you may call Charles Nieberding, Tampa VAMC VIST Coordinator, at: (813) 631-7140.  You may also call in Brooksville, Susan Cook at: (352) 346-9822;  in Newport Richey James Bennett at:  (727) 372-6022; or in Port Charlotte, Bobbie Ress at (239) 627-5634.  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 4.  Please join us there.


    National Legislative Up-Date:   Just prior to adjourning on December 22, the Senate passed S 1182.  That measure provides 35 Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS) positions over the next 3 years.  This was a compromise over the 75 requested in our original legislation.  The House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee has not considered HR 3579 which still has the 75 new BROS positions.  Consequently, the House did not consider that measure before it adjourned on December 23.  It is probable that the House will not approve more than the 35 BROS positions contained in S 1182.  Presently, there are only 25 BROS throughout the US, six of which are in Florida.  If the BVA can get the House to approve the 35 BROS positions approved by the Senate, it will be a significant increase in services to Blinded Veterans in their home communities.  The Senate and House have adjourned until January 3 & 4.  They will reconvene at that time, then recess until January 31 to reconvene to hear the President's State of the Union Message.  Consequently, no definitive work will be done by Congress until February. In the meantime, Those of you who live in Cliff Stearns, Jeff Miller, or Corrine Brown's Districts should contact them and urge their support of HR 3579 our BROS bill in the House.  They serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.           


          Florida Total Homestead Tax Exemption Reminder:  It's that time of year, when 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 and with Florida's older population, many veterans lose their vision each year.  Consequently, we are including this information here.  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 veteran's 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 he or she is a 100% service connected disabled veteran.  Take that certificate to the County Tax Appraiser's 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 or who are legally blind.  This total Exemption has a total household income limitation of $21,539 in 2004.  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 2.7% for 2005.  To qualify, obtain a statement from two Florida licensed Ophthalmologists  stating that you are legally blind.  Take the statement to your County Tax appraiser's Office before March 1st.  You will be required to certify your income annually to maintain the Total Homestead Tax  Exemption under FS 196.101.


              Remember to make your reservation for the February 4 meeting at MacDill by calling one of the individuals listed above by February 1 and provide the necessary identification information for each person attending. 


FRG-BVA Meeting Schedule


February 4                                        FRG Meeting at the MacDill AFB Enlisted Club in Tampa

March 4                                            FRG Meeting at the American Legion in Oakland Park

May 5-7                                            FRG State Convention in Daytona Beach

August 15-20                                   BVA National Convention in Buffalo, New York