VETERANS ASSOCIATION (BVA)
FLORIDA REGIONAL GROUP, INC.
3801 Coco Grove Avenue
Miami, Florida 33133
FRG NEWSLETTER, Novemberr, 2007
FRG President's Message: We are coming into the Holiday Season, November to January. To some it's a time for togetherness, for others, a time to reflect. In reflecting, it was around a year and a half ago when I was elected FRG President, for the first time, and I promoted the ideal that we all, which included friends, families, and persons lending support to our Blinded Veterans community, become ambassadors for the BVA. Reflect for just a moment to when you first heard you were entitled to VA benefits, a CCTV, guide dog, blind or vocational rehabilitation, and in-home care? Reflecting a little bit deeper, what portion of these benefits and entitlements directly or indirectly result from the actions of the BVA? The first answer is that not many are aware of the VA benefits and entitlements, and they find out usually, from another veteran, or someone who knows of another Blinded Veteran already in the system. Second answer, when considering aspects of direct and indirect, it would be safe to say all benefits and entitlements specifically for Blinded Veterans have evolved from the over 62 years of laborious efforts of our BVA. What is the task at hand of an ambassador? It's spreading the word about the BVA. Through the BVA, information is consistently provided and readily available to the Blinded Veterans known to the BVA. It's hard to get information to someone not known to exist. I personally join other clubs, associations, or organizations, so that I can look for other Blinded Veterans within these organizations, and am continuously finding them. I came across a Blinded Veteran in the DAV who knew about his VA entitlements, but didn't know about the VIST or that he didn't have to buy his own CCTV. They are out there and I ask you to find them and not only point them in the right direction, but see if you can get them to join the BVA. Anyone can go to our Web Site at: www.bvafrg.org, and download a copy of a BVA application, or call me at (904) 291-0576 and I'll get one out in the mail. If we all just sign up one Blinded Veteran to our association, we would still only have less than one-half of the Blinded Veteran community in Florida, in our group. So, let's each sign up two!
Switching gears, this Holiday Season time of the year can be a very emotional low for many. I believe it's called "preaching to the choir" when I state that the loss of our eye sight, whether it is total or just severe, impacts our lives tremendously. It's so easy to fall into the feeling of loneliness, the feeling that they are unwanted, unworthy, unfit, or nobody cares. These are very dangerous attitudes that can lead to severe depression and/or anger. We need to recognize these attitudes whether we personally experience them or see it manifested in our friends. In past Newsletters, I have noted the need to take time to visit our hospitalized veterans and now is even more the time to be doing so. Not only taking that time, but taking time to smile, give warm gestures, and a helping hand. For those who are feeling the anxiety, frustration, depression, and loneliness, denial will not rid anyone of these feelings. Denial only allows the individual to drive deeper and deeper into their lives. Sinking deeper into their shell. The more one reflects these attitudes, the more others begin to believe this is the true character of the individual. Recognizing the problem is the first step, then reconciling the feeling with those who can help. Talk with another and let the inner feeling be known. Work it out. A final note, remember the FRG operates only on funds received from the annual apportionment derived from the BVA Life Membership Fund and the gracious donations and bequests made by members and friends of the Florida Regional Group. If you would like to make donations, send your check to the FRG at: 3801 Coco Grove Avenue, Miami, FL 33133, the address noted in the Newsletter, attention Dr. Stocking, FRG Secretary-Treasurer. In the case of bequests, call Dr. Stocking at (305) 446-8008. or in writing use the address in the Newsletter header. I also would like to personally thank all the individuals who show up and participate in our Informational Luncheons. In closing, as always, keep the mission alive, and help one another to help each other. See you soon. Paul W. Kaminsky, FRG President.
FRG Auxiliary President's Message: Dear Fellow FRG Auxiliary Members and the BV's, Fall is here and the busy season is upon us with the monthly BVA-FRG luncheons and the variety of activities around the state. In Ft. Myers, once again, I chaired our annual Vision Awareness Walk-A-Thon involving the agencies in Lee County that work with visually impaired citizens. The FRG is represented on our committee and a number of BV's walked to raise citizen's awareness of the Blinded Veterans and to raise some funds for the Florida Regional Group. This year, we had 155 walkers that received a complementary lunch at Carrabbas Italian Grill. They also received a T shirt marking the event, a goody bag, and chances on some very nice prizes. Music was provided by a Cape Coral Lions member, who is visually impaired. He and his wife sang and entertained the troops. The oldest BV that walked the entire 2 miles was 89 year old Edwin Wack, known to his friends as Bing. He is a computer user, loves the chat room, and walked the entire 2 miles. He did tell me that he had to rest 3 times but he did it. He was disappointed in himself because he had to rest. The youngest walker was in a stroller and the oldest was 97. Quite a span of years. The FRG will share in the donations. My dream of trying to educate the public about visual impairment and what visually impaired people can accomplish with the proper training and equipment is starting to become a reality. I am so proud of everyone who participated. John Thomas, our Southwest District Director, was the FRG representative on the committee, along with Larry Newman. One of the Cape Coral Lions who is a visually impaired artist, prepared certificates for all of the sponsors of the Walk-A-Thon and the individuals who did outstanding work. We had a new organization, this year, The Winning Kids, which is a group organized to teach visually impaired children Braille, long time in coming. My personal goal is also a reality, as the Blinded Veteran is becoming an active citizen of the community through his and her participation in events such as the Walk-A-Thon. Everybody is ready and willing to do it again next year. Think about it for your community. You get much more than you give. Hope to see you at the FRG Luncheon meetings around the state in the coming months. Joyce Thornton, FRG Auxiliary President
FRG Meeting Notice: The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday, December 1, at the Bill Irle's Restaurant, 1310 North Ft. Harrison Avenue (US Highway 19 Alternate) in Clearwater. As in the past, this meeting at Bill Irle's is shaping up to be another afternoon of good food, good times, and good friends. Please plan to join us there and renew old friendships and make new ones.
The meeting will begin at 11:30 AM with a period of socializing, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch, you may have either: Baked Boston Scrod or Wiener Schnitzel and Fruit Cup, Salad, Potato, Vegetable, Rolls & Butter, Iced Tea or Coffee, and Dessert. The price of the lunch will be $5 per person including tax & tip. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks will be available for an additional charge.
FRG President Paul Kaminsky will preside at the meeting following lunch. A National Legislative up-date will be presented. Information about the FRG Auxiliary and its programs will be provided. FRG activities for the coming months will be discussed. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on hand to provide information about services and benefits for Blinded Veterans and their families.
The restaurant has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be attending and the choice of lunch desired, by November 28. Please make your reservations prior to that date by writing to Central West District Director Bill Geden at: 622 East Foresthill Place, Hernando, FL 34442 or call Bill at (352) 341-6875. In St. Petersburg, You may call Bay Pines VIST Coordinator Jody Teper at (727) 398-6661 ex 4516 or Tampa VIST Coordinator Charles Nieberding at: (813) 631-7140 or in Clearwater, call Ben Wells at: (727) 536-1762. It is important for you to make your reservations so that the restaurant may prepare for our meeting.
To get to the restaurant: From Tampa, take State Road 60 across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, continue West to Ft. Harrison Avenue (US Highway 19 Alternate) go north several miles to Bill Irle's. It is a red building on the west side of the street. Free parking is available behind the building. From the South, take I 275 across the Skyway Bridge to State Road 60, go west on SR 60 and continue as above. From the North, take US 19 south to State Road 60, go west and continue as above.
US Legislative Up-Date: For many years, when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Fiscal Year was reported, Congress has passed a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Service Connected Disability Compensation and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits equal to the increase in the CPI. On October 19, Congress passed a 2.3% COLA in Compensation and DIC benefits for the coming year. Individuals receiving Social Security benefits and the Non Service Connected Disability Pension will also receive a 2.3% COLA. These COLA will take effect on December 1 and appear in the checks you receive in January.
The three measures upon which the BVA has been working in this session of Congress have not yet passed. The Paired Organ bill passed the House of Representatives 419 to 1. A similar measure has been reported favorably by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, but has not yet been acted upon by the full Senate. Tom Zampiere, BVA Director of Government Affairs has been working with Senator Akaka's, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, office to expedite its going to the Senate floor. It is hoped that the full Senate will vote upon it shortly. Among other things, that measure would make 20/200 the legal description of blindness at the VA. There appears to be no opposition to the measure but it is not a priority to the Congressional leadership. If we can get it before the Senate, it appears that it has an excellent chance to pass.
The effort to get Congress to establish a Military Eye Trauma Center of Excellence and Registry, appears to be on course. S 1999 has been introduced into the Senate and HR 3558 has been introduced into the House of Representatives. These measures will establish an Eye Trauma Center of Excellence in the Department of Defense (DOD) to register all eye injuries and promote the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, and rehabilitation of military personnel with eye injuries. It will also establish a sharing of medical information with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have a seamless transition to life long treatment and service for eye injured personnel. Since the measure will be a Military Center it will be considered by the Armed Services Committee. Tom Zampiere has worked hard to get these measures out of the Committees. We have had favorable reports in the news media regarding these measures. To date, the DOD does not appear to have a handle on the number of military personnel who have suffered eye injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, many of the traumatic brain injured soldiers have limitations in vision which will cause problems in the future. The VA needs to be informed of all of these military personnel so that they may have the necessary treatment and rehabilitation service both now and in the future.
The bill to provide scholarship funding for individuals to take graduate training in orientation and mobility and Blind Rehab Teaching is still in the Committees. When the funds are used the recipient would have to work at least 3 years for the VA. Currently, there is a shortage of BROS in the VA system and when additional positions are opened, the shortage will even increase. These scholarships will greatly improve that situation. To date, the support has been favorable but the measure is not a high priority with the Congressional leadership.
The Veterans Disability Compensation Benefits Commission has been meeting in Washington and around the Country for several years. Recently, its report was delivered to the President and Congress. It is quite comprehensive and contains many recommendations which would be beneficial to severely disabled veterans. Presently, Service Connected Disability Benefits are paid on the average loss of earning capacity for individuals with the various disabilities. One of the provisions in the report recommends that loss of quality of life be added to the determination of the level of compensation for severely disabled veterans. It recommended an increase up to 25% for loss of quality of life for those severely disabled veterans. Congress has made some favorable comments about the report and promised to introduce appropriate legislation. However, due to the length and complexity of the report, it is unlikely that any legislation will be considered this year. Congress will hold hearings on this report next year before introducing any legislation.
Please join us at Bill Irle's Restaurant in Clearwater on Saturday December 1 for an interesting and enjoyable afternoon. Get a group of your fellow Blinded Veterans together and bring them with you. Remember to make your reservations before November 28 by calling those listed above. If you make a reservation and can't come, please call and cancel your reservation so that the FRG will not have to pay for lunches not used. We look forward to meeting you in Clearwater on Saturday, December 1.
Schedule of Events
December 1 FRG meeting at Bill Irle's Restaurant in Clearwater
January 5 FRG meeting at the Quality Inn in Ocala
February 2 FRG meeting MacDill AFB Enlisted Club in Tampa
March ? Proposed FRG Southeast District meeting
April 5 FRG meeting in Pensacola
May 2-4 FRG State Convention Plaza Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona Beach
August 12-18 BVA National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona
Paul Kaminsky FRG President
Joyce Thornton FRG Auxiliary President
George Stocking Editor