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Miami, Florida 33133
(305) 446-8008
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FRG Newsletter February 2016

" My Experiences With Blindness: " by Lauren O'Farrell WPB BROS. You
forget that I'm blind!" my husband says. He's right. I guess I do forget
that he is blind. I forget because of the way he moves. The way he cooks.
The way he walks the trash to the dumpster on the opposite end of the
apartment complex. I forget because he goes to the store to get me M&Ms
when I have a sweet tooth or cold medicine when I am sick. I forget because
he calls, texts, and emails. I forget because he does everything a man his
age would do. And when I look at him I don't see a blind man. I see the
strong, handsome, intelligent, and good humored man I fell in love with. I
have been around vision loss and blindness most of my life because of my
mom. When I was a baby my mom was an optician. By the time I was in grade
school she was doing iterant work for a state independent living agency
where she traveled to the remote areas of Wyoming to provide services to
people who had lost their vision. When I was just starting college she had
earned her master's degree in Visual Disabilities and was setting up an
assistive technology lab at Florida State University. Throughout the years
I learned a lot about vision loss. I met many people who had lost their
vision. I learned about guide dogs and how you are not supposed to pet them
when they are working. I learned how to be a human guide. I learned that
long canes are for traveling independently and not for sword fights with
your siblings. But more importantly I learned that people who have lost
their vision are just like you and me. They may have to use a different
strategy, but they can still get the job done. I ended up following in my
mom's footstep and I got a master's degree in Visual Disabilities. I have
worked for the VA for the past six years as an orientation and mobility
specialist and now as a blind rehabilitation outpatient specialist. Along
this journey I met my husband who is a veteran who lost his vision while
serving in Afghanistan. I have had the unique experience of working in
blind rehab and living with a veteran who is blind. As a blind rehab
specialist I knew the importance of learning compensatory skills and how to
use adaptive equipment. But watching my husband put those skills to use in
order to be independent added a new level of meaning for me. As a blind
rehab specialist I never got to see what really happened after a veteran
left the blind rehabilitation program and went home. I got to experience
that with my husband. I have watched my husband put his orientation and
mobility training into action daily. He moves around our apartment and our
apartment complex like he owns the place. Whether he is using his long cane
or walking with his guide dog he gets from point A to point B and makes it
look good. He uses his living skills training every week when we eat out at
our favorite restaurant. He cuts his own steak and navigates the cluttered
table with ease to locate his drink. And when he wants to relax and play
the guitar he is able to check the tuning using the talking tuner app on his
iPhone. It turns out that going to blind rehab really paid off. It may
sound like those are small, insignificant daily tasks but it is being able
to do those everyday tasks that make all the difference. If you ask my
husband what was the best thing about going to blind rehab he will tell you
that it made him feel like he was no longer "stranded." It helped him
realize that he could do things by himself and not have to rely on another
person to do everything. And if you ask him how he's doing these days he'll
tell you this is the happiest he's ever been and that he would have never
imagined that life could have been this good after he lost his vision. So
whenever he says to me, "You forget that I'm blind," I say," Yeah, I do. But
isn't that kind of a compliment?"

This is your final notice that the next meeting of the Florida Regional
Group will be held on Saturday, February 13, 2016 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. 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 Marinated Flank Steak Sliced Thin with
Sherry Mushroom Sauce or Chicken Cordon Bleu Chicken Breast Stuffed with Ham
and Swiss Cheese either Served with Fresh Garden Salad, roasted potatoes ,
Green Bean Almandine, rolls & butter, Coffee, Iced Tea, and Chocolate Cake.
The price of the lunch will be $5 per person including tax & tip. FRG
President Mike Taylor will preside at a Meeting following lunch.
Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on hand to
provide information about services and benefits for Blinded Veterans and
their families. A National Legislative Up-Date will be given. Information
about future FRG activities, including the FRG State Convention at the Plaza
Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona Beach will be described. Please make plans to
join us in Ocala on February 13, 2016.

The hotel has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be
attending and the choice of lunch desired before February 9. 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 call Central East District
Director Jeff Ebbers at: (407) 473-5698, E mail You
may also call Judy Hayes, Lake City VAMC VIST Coordinator at (386) 755-3016
ex. 2088. Judy will try to provide limited transportation from the Lake
City VAMC to the meeting in Ocala, for BV's in that area. Call Judy if you
need transportation.

To get to the hotel, take I75 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.

VA Adaptive Housing and Auto Allowance changes: The VA has announced
increases in the Special Adaptive Housing Grants for 2016. The 2101 A
Adaptive Housing Grant for service connected wheel chair bound and the 2101
B grant for service connected double hand amputee and Blinded Veterans have
been increased. The 2101 A grant has been increased to $73, 768 and the
2101 B to $14, 754. Several years ago, the BVA and PVA worked with Congress
to amend the two grants to permit eligible S.C. veterans to reuse the
grants, up to three times, if the amount originally used was less than the
present amount. For example. When the 2101 B grant was originally passed
in 1981, it was for $5000. In 2016, that grant is $14,754. Consequently,
an eligible S.C. veteran may use the difference to adapt his/her home to
make it more accessible for his/her S.C. condition. If the grants are
increased, the eligible S.C. veteran may reuse the grant up to 3 times. For
further information about the Adaptive Housing Grants, contact Dennis
Thompson VARO Adaptive Housing Grant Coordinator at (727) 319-7602.

Automobile Grant: When the original automobile grant was first passed
in 1946, for service connected veterans who were wheelchair bound, amputees,
or blind, this one time grant was for $1600. As time has gone by, inflation
has significantly increased the cost of automobiles. Consequently, Congress
has, periodically, increased the amount of the grant. Several years ago,
due to the increasing inflation in the automobile market, the BVA, PVA, and
DAV got Congress to pass a measure which will periodically increase the
amount of the grant when the cost of automobiles increases. The new amount
for applications received on or after October 1, 2015, will be $20,174.68.
For information about the Automobile grant, call the VARO at (800) 827-1000.

Florida Total Homestead Tax Exemption Reminder: It's that time of year,
when we remind BV's of two Total Homestead Tax Exemption Statutes available
to qualified individuals in Florida. This may be old news 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 Appraiser 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,
obtain a statement from the VA Regional Office certifying that you are 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 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. Initially, this statute has an income
limitation of $8200 annually. On several occasions, the FRG returned to the
Florida Legislature to get that limitation raised due to inflation.
Finally, about 20 years ago, the FRG succeeded in getting an annual increase
equivalent to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This total Exemption has a
total household income limitation of $27,732 for 2015.
At the writing of this Newsletter, the Florida Department of Revenue has
not determined if there will be an increase for 2016. Since the Consumer
Price Index was minimal for 2015, there may be no increase for 2016. Contact
your County Tax Appraiser's Office for information. To qualify for FS
196.101, obtain a statement from two Florida licensed Ophthalmologists or
Optometrists or from the VA stating that you are legally blind. Take those
statements to your County Tax Appraiser's Office before March 1. You will be
required to certify your income annually to keep the Tax Exemption under FS

WPB Blind Rehab Experience: Blindness doesn't stop you from living, you
just have to learn how to adapt. The way to accept this change is by
learning new ways to gain back your independence. Going to a Blind
Rehabilitation Center (BRC) is the first step to personal gratification. It
was very liberating learning how to explore web sites and to e mail family
and friends. I felt proud to be able to write letters to friends and then
to address envelopes all by myself again. We had fun traveling around town
using our white canes and guide dogs. There were outings on the weekends
like bowling and dog races which were interesting and exciting. There was
assigned seating in the dining room and we formed kinships with our fellow
table mates. I had one of my fellow veterans show me where the coffee
supplies were and I made many pots as we sat and shared our experiences.
The laughs and the comradeship bonded us in becoming lifelong friends. I
encourage all Blinded Veterans to explore this training for independence and
happiness. Gigi Mathis

FRG Convention Change: At The FRG Annual Business Meeting on May 2,
2015, the membership voted to hold the State Convention at the Plaza Ocean
Club Hotel in Daytona Beach, where it has been held for the past 10 years.
The contract was signed and the FRG Convention will be held again at the
Plaza Ocean Club April 28-May 1, 2016. The ownership of the Plaza Ocean
Club has changed and plans to close it On September 1, 2016. It is
understood that the hotel will be gutted and rebuilt into a 4 star hotel to
be opened in September 2017. Consequently, the Spring 2017FRG State
Convention must be held elsewhere. It is very unlikely that we will be able
to find another
hotel as inexpensive as we have enjoyed for the past 10 years. If BV's
have valid realistic recommendations about the 2017 FRG State Convention,
contact George Stocking at the address at the top of this Newsletter or call
(305) 446-8008 e mail or Terry King at (941)
505-7747 e mail tnking18
Editor's Note: The FRG List Serve is a two-way process of
giving BV's in the FRG the opportunity to exchange information about
services and benefits or other information of interest to BV's and get
responses. If you were on the List Serve previously and have changed your e
mail address contact one of those listed below and give them your new e mail
address. If you have not previously been on the List Serve and would like
to be able to exchange information and topics of interest to BV's also
contact one of those listed below. In addition, if you have changed your
address, telephone number or e mail address, please give your new number to
one of those listed below. We need to have valid contact information, to
be able to communicate with BV's when necessary. Please contact Terry King
at: (941) 505-7747 e mail or FRG Web Site and List
Serve moderator Bill Stockslager at e mail
Meeting Reminder: Get a group of your fellow Blinded Veterans
together and join us at the Hilton in Ocala on Saturday, February 13. We
are planning a surprise for all in attendance and we are sure you will not
want to miss it. Call one of those listed above and make your reservations
before February 9. If you make a reservation and can't come please call
before February 9 and cancel, so we won't have to pay for meals guaranteed
but not used.

FRG-BVA Meeting Schedule
February 13, 2016 FRG Meeting Hilton Ocala
March 19 FRG Meeting Tropical Acres
Steakhouse in Ft. Lauderdale.
April 28 - May 1 FRG State Convention Plaza
Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona

FRG Newsletter Staff
Mike Taylor FRG President
Lauren O'Farrell West Palm Beach BROS
Gigi Mathis BVA-FRG member
George Stocking FRG Newsletter editor