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FRG Newsletter - September 2015

Fellow Blinded Veterans:
FRG President’s Message: My membership in the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and participation in the Florida Regional Group (FRG), has given me life coping benefits. My initial reason for joining the BVA was to observe others adjusting to the loss of vision. Learning from Blinded Veterans (BV’s) that were successfully adjusting to lives with little or no vision, has been of tremendous help in making my own adjustment. There is not a roadmap or set of directions for how one successfully transitions from a 22 year old Marine into a totally blind person, who does not want to be totally dependent on others, for their needs. In the absence of a roadmap, I’ve been able to learn from others seeking to make the same adjustment. BVA has not been my only source of information but it has been the most influential for many years. The debt of gratitude I feel for the benefits received cannot be paid to those that gave it to me. Most of the BV’s that mentored me are gone. If somehow, I could pass onto BV’s that are newly blind, my obligation might be discharged. Helping others can be a win-win deal. The best advice I received, since losing my sight, was “learn to do as much for yourself as possible”. Telling other BV’s that advice maybe the best service I can provide. If you haven’t learned that the best intentioned, the most loving helper cannot always be there; and the time will come when you will have to figure it out for yourself, or wait; that time will come. Dependency leads to frustration, inconvenience and sense of helplessness. It is not recommended. I spent a weekend around five highly independent blind individuals, some years ago. Witnessing people that are as blind as I am reading Braille rapidly; traveling independently; demonstrated to me what is possible. Comparing your circumstances to others can be instructive. If better ways, or other ways exist that could make one more independent wouldn’t it be valuable to learn those methods? There are many avenues available today for a visually impaired person to gain compensatory skills. One has to take advantage of these opportunities, in a serious manner, for any benefit to result. When you are ready to get started, the FRG is here to help. Our contact numbers are on our website. During the past year, while serving as FRG President, I have learned a lot from individuals that are every bit as dedicated to the success of the FRG in achieving our goals. I have witnessed District Directors putting the success of the FRG functions ahead of their own comfort and convenience. There are FRG Officers whose individual sacrifices on behalf of their fellow Blinded Veterans have received little praise or thanks. There are VA employees that see the value of the BVA and support us in our advocacy. The FRG is a valuable resource of talent, experience and comradeship for BV’s in Florida. The Jacksonville Outpatient Clinic has a program that offers special assistants to older veterans. The Geriatric program in Jacksonville is referred to as, “The Red Team” and is headed up by Dr. Harrison. We are attempting to get Dr. Harrison to speak about her program at the Jacksonville Informational Luncheon. We hope that many of you will be able to join us in Jacksonville in October. Mike Taylor, FRG President(904) 264-0884 email

FRG Meeting Notice: The next Informational meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday, October 3 at the Ramada Conference Center, 3130 Hartley Road in Jacksonville. This will be the first time we will meet at this facility. The Quality Inn had changed ownership and it was not possible to hold our October meeting there. The meeting will begin at 11:30 AM with a period of socializing, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch you may have either: London Broil with roasted garlic cream sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans or Chicken Florentine with rice pila, roasted vegetables, both with garden tossed salad, rolls and butter, ice tea or coffee and double chocolate cake. The price of the lunch will be $5 per person including tip.

FRG President Mike Taylor will preside at the informational 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 VA will be on hand to provide information about services and benefits for Blinded Veterans and their families.

The hotel has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be attending by September 29th. Please make your reservations by that date by calling Mike Taylor at (904) 264-0884 email You may also make your reservations by calling Vist Coordinators: Daria Wells Jacksonville VA Outpatient Clinic at (904) 475-5868; Bruce Davis Gainesville VAMC (800) 324-8387 ex 5560; or Judy Hayes Lake City VAMC at (386) 755-3016 ex. 2088. Judy Hayes is attempting to arrange transportation from the Lake City area to the meeting. BV’s in the Lake City area who would like to use that transportation to the Jacksonville meeting should contact Judy right away. Although the cost of the meal to you is only $5, each meal guaranteed will cost the FRG about $20. If you make a reservation and can't come, please call Mike Taylor before September 29 and cancel your reservation. The FRG will have to pay for each meal guaranteed, including those unused.

To get to the hotel from the north, go south on I 95 to I 295, continue south on I 295 to exit 5 on San Jose Blvd. just past St. Johns River. Go left on San Jose to Hartley Road, turn right. The Ramada will be on your right. Free parking is available adjacent to the Conference Center. From the south, go north on I 95 to I 295, go north on I 295 to exit 55 A, to San Jose Blvd., then to Hartley Road, then continue as above. From the west, go east on I 10 to I 295, go south on I 295 to exit 5 on San Jose Blvd., continue as above. From the airport, go south on I 95 to 295, then south on I 295 to exit 5 on San Jose and continue as above.

BVA National Convention Wrap Up: The BVA National Convention was held at the Louisville Marriott Downtown, August 17 through August 21. Monday morning, a number of educational sessions were held including a variety of sensory aids and veterans benefits. In addition, there was a trip to the American Printing House (APH) for the Blind. The APH provides a wide range of Braille material, as well as, operating a recording studio which records a significant portion of the digital books circulated by the National Library Service. On Tuesday, more educational sessions were held including information about prosthetic and sensory aids. Also on Tuesday morning, the Exhibit Hall was opened with over 40 vendors providing information on a variety of devices. The Exhibit Hall was also open all day Wednesday. Tuesday evening, the President’s Reception was held. Convention Attendees were welcomed by the BVA National Officers and Directors. Tuk Tinsley, Executive Director of the American Printing House described the close affiliation between the APH and BVA. Prior to becoming Executive Director of the APH, Tuk was principal of the School for the Blind in St Augustine. While there, he worked closely with the FRG in improving services for Florida’s blind citizens. Sloan Gibson, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs was the key note speaker at the opening session of the Convention on Wednesday morning. The first Business Meeting was held following that presentation. After acceptance of the Rules and Credentials Committees reports, the Annual report of the National Office and Board of Directors was accepted. Then, Kathy Ruais, BVA Chief Financial Officer presented the proposed budget for the 2015-2016 BVA fiscal year. Following a brief discussion the budget was approved by the membership. Wednesday afternoon, a legislative up-date was presented, followed by a meeting of the By-Laws and Resolutions Committee. Additional informational seminars were held on Thursday morning. Information on eye research and treatment modalities were presented. The Father Carroll Memorial luncheon was held Thursday afternoon. ) FYI Father Carroll died in March 1971 several months before the 26 BVA Convention on Miami Beach. The first Father Carroll Memorial luncheon was held then. At that luncheon, several BVA Past Presidents, Irv Schloss, Ken Clark, and Jay Morse spoke on Father Carroll’s contribution to the BVA. Mike Hudson, Director of the APH Museum was Guest Speaker. He read excerpts from a number of Father Carroll’s speeches to the BVA. Father Carroll spoke with a deep New England accent and Mike Hudson did a good job in using that accent in his presentation. Following the luncheon, the candidates for BVA National office had the opportunity to make presentations and answer questions. Then the six District Directors held caucuses to give BV’s in attendance the opportunity to discuss the candidates and proposed resolutions. Friday morning, the final business meeting was held. Tom Miller, Chairman of the By-Laws and Resolutions Committee presented the report from that Committee. There were no By-Law amendments to be considered by the membership. The BVA Board of Directors reviewed the 21 resolutions passed last year and found that 3 had been achieved. The remaining 18 were presented and passed by the membership. Then the elections for BVA National Office were held with the following results: President Dale Stamper – Hayden, Idaho; Vice President Joe Parker – Pisgah Forest, North Carolina; Secretary Paul Mims - Kansas City Missouri; and Treasurer Joe Mc Neil - Columbus, Georgia. Following the elections, a discussion was held regarding the location for the 2016 BVA Convention. Three locations sent in bids, Louisville, Kentucky, Jacksonville, Florida and Biloxi, Mississippi. Sufficient information was not available to make a decision so the membership voted to authorize the Board of Directors to select the location of the 2016 BVA National Convention. Friday afternoon, a brief discussion was held on the Regional Group Manual. The Awards Banquet closed the Convention Friday night. The Florida Regional Group received the Gold Gavel for having the largest number of BV’s joining during 2015-2016. The Illinois Regional Group received the Silver Gavel for the largest percentage increase, and the Minnesota Regional Group received the Bronze Gavel for the largest number of Non Members who joined during the year. The Major General Melvin Maas Vocational rehabilitation achievement award was presented to Jim Hogan from the Orange County California Regional Group. The Irving Diener Award was presented to Ruth Klein from the Utah Regional Group for her worked with her Regional Group. Ron White from the New York Regional Group received the David Schnair Award for his volunteer work. The Convention closed with the installation of the officers mentioned above and 3 new District Directors, District 1 - Dennis O’Connell, Long Beach, New York; District 2 Dave Fox, Kettering, Ohio; and District 4 Ray Hale, Wenatchee, Washington. Newly elected President Dale Stamper made some closing remarks and adjourned the 70 BVA National Convention, with the hope that all of those who attended the Convention would have a safe journey home.

Blind Rehab Service Training: The Blind Rehab Service (BRS) leadership and VIST Coordinators and BROS from around the country held in service training on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during the BVA Convention. Bruce Davis senior VIST Coordinator from the Gainesville VAMC presented a program on veterans’ benefits to the VIST and BROS in attendance. In addition, Brian Runk low vision specialist from the Ocala VA Outpatient Clinic, Delva Freeman VIST and Rebecca Munjak BROS from the Bay Pines VAMC, and Linh Pham BROS from the Miami VAMC were in attendance. The cooperative arrangements between the VA BRS and BVA have been beneficial to both organizations. During the Convention, the VIST and BROS had the opportunity to visit the Exhibit Hall and learn about new aids and devices.

US Legislative Up-Date: The BVA and PVA continue to work on HR 288 and S 171 our beneficiary travel proposal. Those proposed statutes would permit Blinded Veterans and Spinal Cord Injured veterans, who are above the income threshold, to receive beneficiary travel to Blind Rehab Centers and Spinal Cord Injury Centers. BV’s in Florida should contact their Senators and Representatives, urging them to support those measures. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee from the Pensacola area and Corrine Brown, Minority Leader from the Jacksonville area, have great influence on any veterans legislation.

New Daytona Beach BROS: On August 10, Kevin Kistner reported to the Orlando VAMC to process for the new BROS position at the Daytona Beach VA Outpatient Clinic. When his processing is complete he will serve the Blinded Veterans in Volusia and Brevard Counties. After high school, Mr. Kistner earned a bachelor in arts degree from Elmhurst College in Illinois. Later, he enrolled at the Northern Illinois University where he earned a master’s degree in special education and blind rehabilitation. From 2007 to 2009, he interned at the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center where he specialized in orientation and mobility and low vision technology. Upon completing his internship, he was employed as an O and M instructor at the Hines BRC.

He continued in that position until he transferred to Florida. The FRG and particularly the Blinded Veterans in the Daytona Beach VA Outpatient Clinic catchment area, wish Kevin Kistner good luck in his new position. The FRG looks forward to working cooperatively with him in the coming years.

Meeting Reminder: Remember the next meeting of the Florida Regional Group at the Ramada Conference Center in Jacksonville on Saturday October 3. Please make your reservations by calling one of those listed above in this Newsletter by September 29th. If you make a reservation and can't come please call Mike Taylor and cancel as soon as possible. Come join us in Jacksonville for an interesting and informative afternoon.

FRG Meeting Schedule

October 3 FRG meeting Ramada Conference Center in Jacksonville
December 5 FRG Meeting at Cajp’n Fishbon’s Restaurant in Ft. Myers
January 9 FRG meeting at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa
February 13 FRG Meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Ocala
March ? Proposed FRG meeting in Ft. Lauderdale
April 28-May1 FRG State Convention Plaza Ocean Club in Daytona

FRG Newsletter Staff

Mike Taylor FRG President
George Stocking FRG Newsletter Editor