BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION (BVA)
FLORIDA REGIONAL GROUP, INC.
3801 Coco Grove Avenue
Miami, Florida 33133
FRG NEWSLETTER, January 2008
FRG Presidents Message: For generations the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) has been carrying a torch for all blinded veterans. Weve all heard the history of the BVA, began in 1945, by blinded veterans, chartered by the United States Congress in 1958 to represent all blinded veterans. It is a torch carried proudly by every last one of us in our blinded veteran community, who not only has to endure the loss of a vital and major sense, the sense of sight, but also sacrificed time and efforts, and endure the utmost frustration, wholeheartedly dealing with the ambivalent attitudes of society in general. Our elected officers, and their assistants, both here in the state and at our national BVA Headquarters, steadfastly place one foot in front of the other, convincing the sighted community that blindness, even though a very severe disability, does not mean it is the end of a full and productive life. This symbolic torch I speak of, much like the Olympic torch must not go out, and will be carried by many. No single person carries this torch. It is a team effort pass from one to another. We all are a necessary and integral part of this team. The BVA in its 62 plus years of serving our blinded community has been the creative force, legislative drive, and impetus behind all the services offered by the Veterans Administration. The inspiration behind most of the prosthetic wares, our VIST, VICTORS, and all blind and visually impaired services come from the dynamic efforts of the Blinded Veterans Association. Just recently a civilian organization has formed a blind veterans division, procreated on the misbelief that the BVA has lost focus, and that they can represent the blinded veteran community far better than the BVA. This new organization will charge minimal dues to lure vets in, and it will also allow non-veterans to join, and serve on their Boards. The BVA, to the contrary, all members are blinded veterans, all the members of the Board of Directors, National and state are also blinded veterans. The mission Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans, means quite a bit to the BVA. It is hard to explain an organization or individuals reason, other than possibly for monetary gain or ego satisfaction, for seeing a need to invent a new wheel when all that might be bent are possibly a few spokes of the current wheel. Without going into a lengthy explanation, civilian organizations see the VA as a source for funding. These civilian organizations manage service facilities, and are looking to have government appropriations financing these ventures. To gain access to these government funds they need us veterans. In listening to our members at the BVA national conventions, and somewhat even here in the state complain about personal attitudes, agendas and paths they feel the BVA or FRG need to be more active in or on, but to the most part those persons must not be reading or seeing what milestones the BVA or FRG has accomplished or is in the process of accomplishing. There is not any one of us reading this newsletter who can disavow the fact that together we are strong, divide ourselves into separate divisions, only weakens our cause. We need members who wish to climb higher up our leadership ladder, stand strong, review or repair whichever spoke maybe in need of such action, and reject/resolve the taunts of those who for whatever reason feel it necessary to find it easier to re-create their own new wheel. At the end of each of my Presidents messages in these newsletters I end with Keep the mission alive. Our organization is one of blinded veterans helping each other. That needs all of us to act as Ambassadors of that mission philosophy. Also in previous newsletters there has been discussions of joining together socially in the local areas. Most every VIST Coordinator holds support group meetings, but not every locale is fortunate enough to have a VIST Coordinator. Our Florida Regional Group has monthly luncheons throughout the state, but not all can get to these either. I would love to see every member make at least one trip, and that would be to the state convention in Daytona Beach, May 2-4, 2008. Especially on Saturday the 3rd, to attend our business meeting where we elect officers, and resolve our yearly business agenda. Wrapping this up, to all Florida blinded veterans, I hope you can realize that this new civilian organization is attempting to feed on persons dissatisfactions with very unique circumstances, and is making promises that it will not be able to keep. The BVA has been there for us now and in the past. In no way belittling past achievements, but in the ten years that Ive been associated with the BVA these past three years have been some of the most proactive legislative advancement years. Research, technology is on the forefront and BVA is probably more recognized than ever before in the past. We need to keep the momentum going in this positive direction for our newly blinded wounded heroes. So once again, keep the mission alive, and help one another to help each other. Hope to see you at one of our luncheons throughout the state. Paul W. Kaminsky, FRG President, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-291-0576.
FRG Auxiliary President's Message: First, let me wish all of you a Very Happy and Productive New Year. Yes, it is that time again when you can look for your letters announcing the FRG Auxiliary Scholarships for 2008-2009. Two $1000 Scholarship will be available for the spouse or child of a Florida Blinded Veteran. If you are interested in applying write to Cathie Cotton, Scholarship Chair person at: 15945 S.W. 240 Street, Homestead, FL 33031 for an application. The application packet must be received by April 15. I hope that we have a number of interested students this year. I would also like to remind you to attend the monthly FRG luncheon meetings as they come to your area of the state. This is a way of meeting new veterans, renewing friendships, and learning about the latest legislation. The BVA and Auxiliary cannot make informed decisions without keeping up with what is going on. The Auxiliary is only as strong as its membership. This is also true for the BVA. Hope to see you at one of the monthly luncheons. Joyce Thornton, FRG Auxiliary President.
FRG Meeting Notice:
The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday February 2, 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 Paul Kaminsky will preside at the meeting following lunch. VA Representatives 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 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, so we can provide it to the security guards. 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 January 30. 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 by calling Bill at: (352) 341-6875. In addition, you may call Charles Nieberding, Tampa VAMC VIST Coordinator, at: (813) 631-7140 or Jody Teper, Bay Pines VIST Coordinator at (727) 398-6661 ex 4516. You may also call in Punta Gorda, Terry King at (941) 505-7747. 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 2. Please join us there.
Charity Misinformation: On December 13, an article appeared in the Washington Post and later picked up by some TV news media which incorrectly criticized the Veterans Service Organizations, including the BVA, for poor use of donated funds. The article quoted a Chicago charity watch dog organization which evaluated organizations on the cost allocated to various programs. It gave high ratings to organizations such as Fisher House which was established by a philanthropist and obtains funds from the rich and large corporations as a result of free publicity provided by the media, with little or no fund raising costs. The BVA and most Veterans Service Organizations receive most of their funding from thousands of average Americans who generally donate $10 to $20 each. The cost of raising those funds is high compared to organizations such as the Fisher House. The article indicated that one organization paid its founder and his wife $540,000 annually and implied that all Veterans Service Organizations paid similar six figure salaries to staff. The BVA pays no six figure salaries to any staff. The BVA National Board of Directors and all of the 53 Regional Group Boards are volunteers and receive no remuneration from the BVA or Regional Groups. The BVA has 19 full time employees, 10 in the Field Service Program and 9 in the National Headquarters and 8 part time employees 6 reader assistants in the FSP and 2 National Office receptionists. Considering the cost of living in Washington, all of the BVA staff are under paid, receiving about what a clerk would receive in a government office. The charity watch dog agency did not consider all of the volunteer work donated by veterans, including BV's, to help fellow veterans. Last year, the BVA National Board alone donated over 10,000 hours to work for Blinded Veterans. Volunteers in the Regional Groups donated many, many thousands of hours to assist fellow BV's. Without the BVA this vast amount of service would not be provided. The BVA is most careful with the funds entrusted to it by its donors. The BVA is an advocate for and provides service to all BV's not just recent SC veterans. It is probable that the Washington Post and TV news media will not report any positive information about the Veterans Service Organizations, including the BVA.
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. The Florida Regional Group worked many years to obtain and improve these benefits. If you qualify, take your documentation to your local Tax Appraisor before March 1.
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 FRG secured an amendment to the statute to permit the surviving spouse to 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. 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 $23604 in 2007. 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 possible that there will be a small increase for 2008. To qualify, obtain a statement from two Florida licensed Ophthalmologists stating that you are legally blind. You will be required to certify your income annually to maintain the Total Homestead Tax Exemption under FS 196.101.
FRG-BVA Meeting Schedule
February 2 FRG Meeting at the MacDill AFB Enlisted Club in Tampa
March 1 FRG Meeting at the Flaming Pit Restaurant in Pompano Beach.
April 5 FRG meeting in Pensacola
May 2-4 FRG State Convention Plaza Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona