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FRG Newsletter June 2013

To get on the FRG List Serve call Terry King at (941) 505-7747.


     FRG President's Message:  Here we are all once again opening a new page in the long productive history of the BVA-FRG.  I am once again honored to serve the Blinded Veterans of Florida, as President of the FRG, and I shall do it to the best of my ability, along with the other members of the board, of which I consider to be very hard workers and dedicated to the BVA-FRG.  The following blinded veterans were elected at the FRG Annual Business Meeting on May 4, 2013 at the FRG State Convention:  Terry King President, Mike Taylor Vice President, George stocking secretary-Treasurer, Earl Bessent Central West Director, David Kinney Central East Director, Bob Walczak South West director, and Jim McCoy South East Director.  The North West Director and the North East Director shall be appointed by the president, and of course, must be approved by the FRG Board of Directors.  This year we are going to attempt a couple of new ideas.  First of all for those of you that are not aware, the directors that you elected have many assistant directors that are appointed by the directors and perform many tasks.  This year we are going to be calling two thousand plus blinded veterans in Florida and asking them a myriad of questions.  For example, have you any problems with the VA, any aids and or devices that you need that may improve your quality of life and many other items that we feel that are important to the well being of our Blinded Veterans of Florida.  Secondly, we shall attempt to locate and encourage our blinded comrades to step forward and accept leadership positions, and particularly our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Our World War two and Korean War veterans are moving on, therefore it is going to be up to the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan veterans to carry the flag forward if we intend to maintain the benefits that we are currently receiving. Here is an excellent quotation for all of us to remember.   While I was serving in the military I’ll never forget President John Kennedy’s quotation “don't ask what your country can do for you ask instead what you can do for your country”.   Now my last item in this Presidents message is the rumor mill.  We all remember the game we use to play whereby people sat in a circle and one person whispered something to the next one and so on around the circle and by the time the initial comment got back to the original person it sounded nothing like it started off to be.  Therefore, my advice to you all is if you here a rumor, attempt to locate the originator of the rumor and determine the truth of the message, trust me it will not be the same as you were told via the rumor mill.  Terry King, FRG President


     New BVA Field Service Program (FSP) Officer:  Douglas Brooks, who has been the FSP Officer at the Atlanta VA Regional Office in recent years, has retired.  BVA FSP Director Ed eckroth has recommended, and the BVA Board of Directors has approved, Joseph A.  Axt as the new FSP Officer in Atlanta.  He will take up his duties to serve Blinded Veterans in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in June.  Joe Axt entered the Marine Corps in 1979.  During most of his career in the USMC, he served as an armorer.  To prepare for his later duties, he completed several USMC and Navy counseling programs.    Then, he served as a reenlistment counselor for several years.  In 1993, He was separated from the USMC, at the rank of E 6, Staff Sergeant.  Following discharge from the USMC, he secured employment as a supervisor in a manufacturing plant where he worked from 1994 to 2000, when his vision deteriorated to the point he was no longer able to perform those duties.  As are all BVA FSP Officers, he is a Blinded Veteran.  From 2000 to 2002, he attended Tri-County Community College in North Carolina where he completed an Information Technology Program.  From 2002 to 2008, he managed a cafeteria in North Carolina under the Randolph-Sheppard Program.  Subsequently, he used his computer skills to teach computer access to Blinded Veterans in North Carolina.  In 2011, he entered Georgia Glynette College where he completed a program in systems information and security.  Presently, he is completing the National Veterans Legal Service course to be certified as a National Service Officer.  He plans to take up his duties in mid June.  


     US Legislative Up-Date:  For several years, the BVA and PVA have worked to have Congress pass legislation to provide Beneficiary Travel to all BV's and SCI Vets to Blind Rehab Centers (BRD) and Spinal Cord Injury Centers (SCIC) for specialized rehab training.  Presently BV's and SCI vets whose income is above the income threshold may not be provided travel for this specialized training.  In the last Congress, legislation was introduced to address this deficiency.  Since it was not passed, we will have to start over in this session.  Senator Tester has introduced S 633 and Representative Brownley has introduced HR 1284 which will authorize the VA to provide this travel.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on S 633 on May 9th.  The BVA and PVA testified and were supported by the other Veterans Service Organizations.  The Veterans Health Administration also supports S 633.  It appears that S 633 has a good chance but HR 1284 will be more difficult.  Representative Jeff Miller from Pensacola, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee does not plan a hearing on HR 1284.  No Representative from Florida has signed as a co-sponsor of HR 1284.  We urge all FRG BV's to contact their US Representatives and urge them to join as a co-signer on HR 1284.             


     FRG Scholarship Program:  The FRG Scholarship Program for the 2013-2014 academic year was announced in the December 2012 FRG Newsletter.  The program offered two $1000 Scholarships.  In January 2013, a Scholarship Program letter was sent to all members of the FRG.  The Scholarship letter contained the guidelines for the Scholarship Program and the method for securing the application packet.  Six individuals requested application packets.  The cut off date for the receipt of completed application packets was April 15, 2013.  Two Scholarship candidates sent completed application packets.  Consequently, they will be receiving $1000 Scholarship for the 2013-2014 academic year.  The successful candidates are Deborah Gaskin from Ocala who is attending the University of Florida and the other is Arial Taylor who lives in Fleming Island and is attending Florida State College in Jacksonville.  MS Gaskin is pursuing a pre-med program and MS Taylor is working on a Physical Therapy - Occupational Therapy Technician certification program.  In July, a check, for tuition, books, and academic fees, in the amount of $500 will be sent in their name to the respective schools for the fall term and another check in the amount of $500 will be sent in December for the winter 2014 term.  The FRG congratulates these two successful Scholarship Candidates and wish them good luck.


     FRG State Convention Business Meeting Minutes:  The meeting was called to order at 9:02 AM on May 4th by FRG President Darryl Goldsmith.  Following the invocation by Charles Brooks and the pledge to the flag led by Darryl goldsmith, a roll call of those registered for the Convention was held.  A motion was passed to waive the reading of the May 5, 2012 Annual Business Meeting Minutes and to accept them as published in the June 2012 FRG Newsletter.  The Treasurer reported an opening balance of $49180.27 in the FRG checking account in April 2012.  During the year, income totaling $20511.91 was received, making a total of $69692.18 available in the checking account for FRG use.  Expenditures during the year totaled $25277.25, leaving a balance in   the checking account, prior to the 2013 Convention, of $44414.93.  The only fund raising project was conducted in the Southwest District to raise funds for transportation to the FRG State Convention.  Bob Walczak, Southwest District Director and Vice President Terry King led a White Cane Walk-A-Thon in Ft. Myers raising $1000.  The value of the CD's in the general fund, in April 2012 was $99282.90 Interest on all General Fund CD's was $600.67.  The total funds in General account CD's as of April 2013 was $99883.57.  The FRG Scholarships Fund CD, a restricted account, was valued at $11465.67.  During the year $76.51 was received in Interest, leaving a balance of $11542.18 available for future FRG Scholarships.  The total Certificates of Deposit, including the Scholarship fund were $111425.75 Total cash assets including the checking account and all certificates of deposit in April 2013 were $155840.67.  The membership at the Convention voted to accept the Treasurer's report.


     The District Directors provided information about activities in their Districts.  The Membership Committee reported the Florida Regional Group had a total of 1259 Members and Associate Members as of April 2013.  This is a decrease of 185 Members and Associate Members since the time of the 2012 FRG State Convention.  The FRG membership is composed of 34% WW II, 23% Korean, and 29% Vietnam BV's.  Only 14% are peace time, Desert Storm, and Iraq and Afghanistan BV's.  The aging process is taking a toll on our membership.  The FRG continues to have the largest membership of any Regional Group in the BVA.  In addition to those Blinded Veterans who actively support the BVA, there are a total of 900 BV's on the FRG - BVA mailing list who have not paid their dues for 2013.  In November 2012, the FRG mailing list contains a total of 2042.  The FRG is working with the VIST Coordinators to send letters to BV's in their area to increase our contact with BV's.  Since November 2012, two VIST Coordinators have completed this process and two more have started sending letters.  Since November 2012, we have gained 117 on the mailing list and 67 of those new BV's have joined the BVA-FRG for the first time.  Since April 2012, even with the additional 117 new names, the FRG has had a reduction in its mailing list by 189, primarily due to the death of WW II and Korean BV's.  We need to contact our fellow BV's and try to get our membership list increased. 


     The Legislative Committee presented information regarding National legislation of interest to Blinded Veterans.  All Blinded Veterans in attendance were encouraged to become actively involved in writing to their Senators and Representatives regarding legislation.  All BV's with computer access were encouraged to add their name to the BVA-FRG List Serve so they can received information on legislation as it is being considered by Congress.  


     Paul Kaminsky reported on his representation of the FRG on the Florida Dept of Veterans Affairs Veterans Council (FDVA), the Florida Div of Blind Services (DBS) Rehab Council, and the Vision Caucus.       The FDVA Council is composed of representatives from the various Veterans Service Organization.  Among other things it monitors veteran's legislation before the Florida Legislature.  The DBS Rehab Council monitors the services the DBS provides to Florida citizens.   The Vision caucus gives the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind (FAASB) and other organizations the opportunity to meet, once a year, with members of the Florida Legislature.


     Old business:  The format of the FRG Newsletter was reviewed.  There were no recommendations regarding changes in the Newsletter.  The FRG District meetings were discussed.  The remaining activities at the 2012 FRG State Convention were reviewed.


     The floor was opened for New Business with the election of Officers and District Directors as the first item of business.  The following BV's were elected as Officers and District Directors:  President - Terry King from Punta Gorda;  Vice President - Mike Taylor from Fleming Island;  Secretary-Treasurer - George Stocking from Miami; Central West District - Earl Bessent from Tampa; Central East District - David Kinney from Deland; Southwest District - Bob Walczak from Port Charlotte; and Southeast District - James McCoy from Sunrise.  An election was held to select the Florida Regional Group Delegation to the BVA 68th National Convention , as follows:  Delegate - Dr. George Stocking;  Alternate Delegates:  1. Terry King, 2. Israel Chance, 3. Darryl Goldsmith, 4. James Duda.  Terry King was elected as FRG Representative on the By-Laws and Resolutions Committee, with the Delegate and/or Alternate Delegates, in the order listed above, as Alternate Representatives on that Committee.  The Delegation was instructed to vote against any amendment to the BVA By-Laws to establish a Low Vision Veteran category of membership.  The Delegation was instructed to vote for Darryl Goldsmith for BVA National Treasurer.  With the exception of the instructions above, a motion was passed to send the Delegation uninstructed on other items to be considered at the BVA Convention.


     After the election, the floor was open to other New Business.  A Resolution was passed to maintain, on an on going basis, the FRG funds in the First National Bank of South Miami and to have the President and Secretary-Treasurer as co-signers on all accounts.  Further, the Resolution, gave the President and Secretary-Treasurer, with the approval of the Board of Directors, the responsibility to move the funds to another bank if more advantageous interest rates can be obtained.


     The 2014 FRG State Convention was discussed.  When the Convention Chairman George Stocking, met with the hotel management the hotel offered to maintain the same contract as in 2013.  The membership voted to accept the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel contract for the 2014 FRG State Convention.


     The FRG Newsletter was discussed and will continue as in its present format.  The recorded version was discussed and the $1500 donation to the Talking Book Library, as approved on an on-going basis, will be sent.  The 7 District Meetings were reviewed and will continue as in 2012.  The FRG will purchase a $100 full page ad in the BVA National Convention Program, as previously authorized.


     A Resolution was circulated to all in attendance at the Convention regarding the vacant VIST Coordinator position at the Tampa VAMC.  The Resolution is directed to Kathleen Fogerty Tampa VAMC Director and the VISN 8 Acting Director Thomas Wisnieski, urging that the vacant VIST Coordinator position be filled as soon as possible.   Further, it urged the Director to hire an additional VIST Coordinator to service the outlying Clinics.  Other VAMC in VISN 8 have at least 2 VIST Coordinators to serve the Medical Center and large Outpatient Clinics.   It was passed unanimously.  The meeting wa s adjourned at 11:52 AM. Respectfully submitted, George E. Stocking, Secretary