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     Editor's Note:  This Newsletter is being written shortly before Thanksgiving in order for you to receive it in early December.  We hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving.  As we continue in the Holiday Season, on behalf of the Florida Regional Group, I would like to extend best wishes for a Most Merry Holiday Season and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.  The format of this December issue is different, as the FRG President's and FRG Auxiliary President's Messages have been replaced with a history of the VIST Program.  Most of us take the services and benefits for granted and are not aware of all of the work which went into bringing us these services and benefits.  Your editor was one of the 11 Blinded Veterans who took part in the pilot project which ultimately led to the establishment of the Visual Impairment Service Program.  The following article relates that process.


     VIST Program History:  Most Blinded Veterans (BV's) have had contact with their Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Coordinator for assistance with benefits, rehabilitation training, prosthetics and sensory aids, and independent living.  We often take this assistance for granted.  However, few BV's are aware of how the VIST Program got started and how it has evolved.  In this article your editor will attempt to describe what led up to the VIST Program, how it started and the tremendous changes it has experienced over the years.  To lay a foundation, it is necessary to return to the beginning of the BVA in 1945.  Near the end of World War II, when BV's began to return from overseas, they were sent to Valley Forge Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and Dibble AGH in California.  It was at Valley Forge that Dick Hoover initiated the long cane technique of mobility.  It was also at Valley Forge that the total approach to rehabilitation was implemented.  The first step was to help the BV to get his head on straight and acquire skills to make him as independent as possible.  When BV's were transferred to Avon Army Convalescent Hospital in Connecticut, BV's were assisted in planning vocational training and planning for employment in addition to further personal adjustment training.  At that time, the VA had no specialized rehabilitation training for BV's.  It had no Blind Rehab Centers, VIST, or BROS and few prosthetics and sensory aids.  Consequently, BV's at Avon started the BVA to advocate for services and benefits for Blinded Veterans.  Through the BVA's efforts, President Truman signed an Executive Order in 1947 requiring the VA to provide Blind Rehabilitation Training.  As a result, the first Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) was opened at Hines VA Hospital July 4, 1948.  The training started at Valley Forge, Dibble, and Avon were refined and BV's began receiving comprehensive rehabilitation training.  Unfortunately few staff at the many VA medical facilities were aware of the BRC at Hines and many BV's dropped through the cracks.  Further, no one at the various VA medical facilities were assigned to learn about services for BV's and provide counseling to BV's at the local level.  The early leaders of the BVA worked with the VA Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS) to inform BV's of the training at Hines and other rehabilitation services.  In the early 1950, the BVA applied for grants to establish a Field Service Program (FSP) to have BV's work with other BV's to assist in their rehabilitation.  In 1954 the first BVA FSP was started and BV's were placed geographically and employed to assist their fellow BV's with information, assistance with benefits, and planning for employment.  This program provided invaluable assistance to BV's and expanded the contact with VA medical facility staff.  Unfortunately, the grants which permitted the BVA to operate the FSP ran out in the late 1950's.  The resulting reduction in contacts with BV's made apparent that something had to be done to improve this situation. 


     In the early 1960's, the BVA and BRS leaders began to work on a plan to educate VA medical facility staff regarding the needs of BV's and of the rehabilitation services available to them.  At that time, they contacted the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to join in securing data to justify establishing a program in the various VA medical facilities to provide specialized services to BV's.  At that time, Robbie Robinson, one of the early BVA Field Representatives, was employed as a Social Work Researcher for the AFB.  As a result the BVA, VA, and AFB joined in a pilot research project to acquire this data.  While a BVA Field Rep, Robbie was located in Florida.  As a result, he was familiar with the VA staff and facilities at the VA Regional Office then located in the old Don Caesar Hotel in Pasa Grille.  In March 1963, 11 Florida BV's were brought to that VARO and run through a full day of testing, medical exams, and counseling.  It was quite similar to the annual VIST review, with the exception of the younger ages of the participants, more emphasis was given to vocational training and job placement.  The results of this pilot project was used to initiate an expanded research program at 10 VA facilities around the US.  Ultimately 851 BV's completed the research program.  In 1966, the BVA used this data to work with the VA BRS staff to start the Visual Impairment Service Program.  Initially, both the BVA and BRS leaders wanted to name the program the Blinded Veteran Service program.  However, because many veterans, though legally blind, were reluctant to identify themselves as blind.  Consequently, Visual Impairment Service was selected as the name of the program.  In 1967, the VA Central Office approved the establishment of Visual Impairment Service Teams at 60 VA medical facilities around the US.  The VIS Team was composed of individuals from the various disciplines which were involved with the annual VIST Review.  The VIST Coordinator was the catalyst who made the program function.  Initially the VIST Coordinator was a part time Social Worker.  In those VA facilities where the VIST Coordinator was given plenty of time for work with BV's, the program flourished.  However, there were too many stations where the VIST Coordinator was only given a few hours a week for Work with BV's.  It became apparent that there needed to be full time VIST Coordinators at the VA facilities where there were a large population of BV's.  In 1977, with the assistance of Russ Williams BRS Chief, the Florida Regional Group submitted a resolution to the BVA National Convention urging the VA to establish full time VIST Coordinators at all VA facilities with large numbers of BV's in their area.  As a result, in 1978 the first full time Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established in Seattle - Jay Fox, San Francisco - Mark Voorhies, Houston - Randy Green, Cleveland - Evelyn Papadamolis, Miami - Trudy Rothenberg, and New York City - Michele Swartz.  At those 6 VA facilities, there was a dramatic increase in the number of BV's on the VIST roles and the service those BV's received.  The BVA used that data to go to Congress and in 1981, 12 additional full time Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established.  In 1982, when the BVA Government Affairs Committee net with Dr. Jacoby, Deputy Chief Medical Director, emphasis was placed on the need for additional full time VIST Coordinators.  During that meeting, Dr. Jacoby agreed to establish 36 new full time VIST Coordinator positions over the next 3 years.  As it turned out, 4 positions were added in 1982, 12 in 1983, 12 in 1984 and the remaining 8 in 1986.  The BVA continued to work with Congress and the VA to establish additional full time VIST positions.  In 1996, the BVA secured funding from Congress for 22 new full time VIST Coordinator positions and in 2008 another 12 positions were funded.  Since the VIST Program was established in 1967,  there are VIST Programs at 162 VA stations,  with 113 full time and 49 part time VIST Coordinators in the US.  the BVA has worked with the Congress, VA Central office, and individual VA Medical Centers and Clinics to expand the VIST program.  Florida has 13 full time VIST Coordinators and one part time VIST.  This is more than any other state.  A 14th full time VIST position has been established at the VA Outpatient Clinic in the Villages.  Recruitment for that position has closed and it is hoped that the new VIST Coordinator will start working shortly after the first of the year.  the BVA and FRG will continued to work with Congress, the VA Central Office, and local VA facilities to expand the VIST Program both full and part time VIST Coordinator positions.  


    FRG Meeting Notice:  The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday, January 8, 2011 at the Hilton Hotel 3600 S.W. 36 Avenue in Ocala.  Bruce Davis, VIST Coordinator at the Gainesville VAMC, has assisted in making the arrangements for this meeting.  The meeting will begin at 11:30 AM with a period of socializing, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch, you may select between:  London Broil with Sherry Mushroom Sauce and Roasted Potatoes or Breast of Chicken & Herbal Champagne Cream Sauce with Rice Pilaf each with Garden Salad, Green Beans Almandine, Rolls & Butter, Iced Tea or Coffee and Dessert.  The price of the lunch will be $5 per person including tax & tip.


     FRG President Terry King will preside at the meeting following lunch.  A National Legislative Up-Date will be presented.  A discussion will be held regarding FRG activities for the coming months.  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 FRG Auxiliary will also provide information about their activities and the 2 Scholarships they offer to the spouse or children of Florida Blinded Veterans. 

     The hotel has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be attending and the choice of lunch desired by January 5.  Please make your reservations prior to that date by writing to Bruce Davis, VIST Coordinator, VAMC, 1601 S.W. Archer Road, Gainesville, FL  32608, or call Bruce at (800) 324-8387 ex. 5560.  You may also make your reservations by calling Louise DiGennaro, VIST Coordinator at the Jacksonville VA Outpatient Clinic at: (904) 232-2751 ex 3015 or Judy Hayes, VIST Coordinator at the Lake City VAMC, at (386) 755-3016 ex. 2088.  Although the cost of the meal to you is only $5, each meal guaranteed will cost your Regional Group $15.  So if you make a reservation and can't come please call Bruce Davis before January 5 and cancel.  In that way we won't have to pay for meals not used.


     To get to the hotel, take I 75 North or South to exit 350.  Go East off of I 75 on State road 200 to the first traffic Light and turn right on S.W. 36 Avenue.  The Hilton hotel will be on your right.  Free parking is available at the hotel.  If you need directions call the Hilton at (352) 854-1400.  Do not call the hotel to make or cancel reservations, call one of those listed above.


     Us Legislative Update:  Following the election, Congress reconvened a lame duck session on November 15.  In this session, the Democrats will continue to be the majority party in both the House and Senate.  Many items must be considered during this short session including all of the appropriations for FY 2011, taxes, and reorganization.  The Government is functioning on Continuing Resolutions with funding at the FY 2010 level.  It is hoped that the VA appropriation will be completed so that many changes authorized during the 111 Congress can be funded.  The VA appropriation has passed the House and the Senate Appropriation Committee but not the full Senate.  It is hoped that Congress will not get bogged down in partisan rangling and get the appropriations passed.  When the 112th Congress convenes in January, the Republicans will have a majority in the House and the Democrats will continue a small majority in the Senate.    


     FRG Auxiliary Scholarship:  It is that time of year again.  No, not Christmas or Chanukah.  It is Scholarship time!  In January, letters will go out to all Florida Blinded Veterans asking for applications for the Florida Regional Group Auxiliary Scholarship Program.  This year we will be giving two $1000 Scholarships for the 2011-2012 academic year.  We always get questions about grandchildren, but our current guidelines do not include them.  Children and spouses of Florida Blinded Veterans are eligible to apply.  College, trade, and vocational schools are opportunities to apply for these scholarships.  If you have questions, contact FRG Auxiliary Scholarship Co Chairpersons Beverly Godfrey at: 16675 N.E. 59 Street, Silver Springs, FL 34488 (352) 626-2729, email or Pat Holcomb at: 176 N.E. 168 Court, Silver Springs, FL 34488, (352) 625-2279, email    .


     Why Join the BVA? It is only by joining together that we can make our voices heard by the Nation and Congress.  The strength of your voice is needed by The BVA to make Congress and VA listen to the special needs of Blinded Veterans.  We need your membership to stay strong.  By joining your voice with the BVA, you increase your chance of being heard on the national, state, and local levels of government.  The BVA is for any veteran whose vision meets the legal description of blindness brought on by military service, aging, or illness. You become a part of a very special brotherhood to support you in your time of need with advice, encouragement, and information.  Together we can make a grateful country listen.  Use the application enclosed in the print copy of this Newsletter and JOIN THE BVA TODAY.  BVA dues are the lowest of any Veterans Service Organization.  Annual dues are only $8.  Better yet, consider becoming a Life Member (LM) or Associate Life Member (ALM), then, you won't have to pay dues ever again.  Your life dues go into the Life Membership Fund, the principal of which is never touched.  The dividends and interest from that fund are apportioned to the Regional Groups according to the number of LM and ALM in the Group.  LM and ALM dues are staggered according to your age.  The enclosed application  form indicates that LM and ALM dues run from $80 for BV's age 44 and under, $70 for BV's 45 to 54, $60 - 55 to 60, $50 - 61-65, and $40 age 66 and over.  You may start a LM or ALM with a down payment of $10 with the balance payable over the next 2 years.  If the code next to your name on the address label is FM or FAM you have previously been a Member or Associate Member but not at present.  If the code is NM or NAM, you have never joined the BVA.  By joining now, you will be in good standing for 2011.  Please  use the APPLICATION  AND JOIN THE BVA TODAY!


FRG-BVA Meeting Schedule


January 8                                  FRG Meeting Hilton Hotel in Ocala

February ?                                Proposed FRG meeting Tampa          

March ?                                    Proposed FRG Southeast District Meeting

April 29 - May 1                       FRG State Convention Plaza Ocean Club Hotel Daytona

August 16-21                            BVA National Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada



This is the end of the December FRG Newsletter.  When finished, please rewind the cassette to its beginning and return it to the Talking Book Library in Daytona Beach as soon as possible.