Blinded Veterans Association Florida Regional Group
Our first District Meeting is September 8, 2018 in Orlando, FL. See you
2018 FRG Directors Directory: Fellow FRG Members are volunteering to serve you!
Carlos Pere' Phone: (813) 486-4817 E-mail:
BVA-FRG VICE PRESIDENT:
Nate Gorham Phone: (407) 797-5889 E-mail:
George Stocking Phone: (305) 446-8008 E-mail:
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT:
Terry King Phone: (941) 505-7747 E-mail:
NORTHERN DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
David Zang Phone: 904 529 9376 E-mail:
CENTRAL NORTH DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
Doug Cram Phone: (352) 489-0557 E-Mail:
CENTRAL EAST DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
Jeffrey Ebbers Phone: 407 473-5698 E-mail:
CENTRAL WEST DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
Virginia Vogel Phone: (313) 600-6532 E-mail:
SOUTH EASTERN DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
Jim McCoy Phone: (954) 616 9220 E-mail:
SOUTH WESTERN DISTRICT DIRECTOR:
Anna Clarke Phone: (239) 789-6708 E-mail:
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 relates that VIST Program History:
Many 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 last 48 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, Army and Air Force BVs were sent to Valley Forge Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and Dibble AGH in California. Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard BVs were sent to the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. 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
Shortly thereafter, this process was implemented at Dibble AGH and the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. The first step was to help the BY 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 for employment in addition to further personal adjustment training. At that time, the VA had no specialized rehabilitation training for BV's and did not plan to establish such programs. 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 establish a Blind Rehab Service (BRS) and 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, Philadelphia, and Avon. It was refined: BV's began receiving comprehensive rehabilitation training. When BVs completed their training at Hines and returned home, there were no VA Staff in the various VA facilities to assist in transferring the skills learned at Hines to the BVs community.
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 was 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 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, thus expanding their knowledge about Blind Rehab and the training at Hines.
Unfortunately, the grants which permitted the BVA to operate the first 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 B V'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. Robbie Robinson, one of the early BVA FSP Representatives, was then 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 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 were 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 and BRS used this data to work with the VA Central Office 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, this complicated the collaboration of services
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 was 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, San Francisco, Houston, Cleveland, Miami and New York City. 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 times 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. Since then, the BVA continued to work with Congress and the VA to establish additional full time VIST positions. Since then, almost all of the VIST positions established around the US were a direct result of the efforts of the BVA. Since the VIST Program was established in 1967, there are VIST Programs at 166 VA stations, with 138 full time and 28 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. There are 12 frill time VIST Coordinators within the FRG area, more than any other Regional Group, the BVA and FRG has 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.
As you are reading this newsletter, we have a new Secretary of Veteran Affairs. The Senate and House of Representatives voted to confirm the appointment of Robert L Wilkie to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Florida voted for the nominee. Secretary Wilkie was born in Frankfort, West Germany, the son of an Army Artillery officer. He received his Bachelors degree from Wake Forest University, his law degree from Loyola University School of Law and his Masters degree from Georgetown University. Secretary Wilkie is a reserve officer in the Air Force and previously served in the Navy Reserve. He lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife and two children
The BVA looks forward to continuing with Secretary Wilkie as we have in the past with his predecessors.
The Florida Regional Group will hold the Central East District Meeting on Saturday, September 8, at the Rosen Plaza Hotel 9700 International Drive in Orlando. The meeting will begin with a period of socializing at 11:30 AM, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch, you may have either Breast of Chicken Picatta, or Sliced Roast Sirloin with Wild Mushroom Sauce, each with Garden Salad with Parmesan Peppercream & Greek Vinaigrette Dressing, Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, Julienne of Fresh Vegetables, Ice Tea or Coffee, and Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. The price of the lunch is $5 per person, including tax and tip. FRG President Carlos Pere will preside at the informational meeting following lunch. A National Legislative Update will be presented.
Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on-hand to provide information about services and benefits of interest to BV's and their families. A report will be presented regarding the BVA National Convention
Future FRG activities will be discussed.
The hotel has asked us to inform them as to the number who will be attending and the type of luncheon you desire before September 5. Please make your reservations before that date by writing to Central East District Director Jeff Ebbers at: 1052 Kerwood Circle, Oviedo, FL 32765 or call (407) 473-5698, firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call Orlando VIST Coordinator Chris Collins at (407) 631-2101.
Remember when you make your reservation to give the first and last name of each person attending, and the choice of lunch desired, before September 5th. We look forward to meeting you in Orlando.
FRG-BVA Schedule of Activities:
August 13-17, 2018 BVA National Convention in Reno (Sparks) Nevada
September 8, 2018 FRG Central East Direct Meeting at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando
April 12-14, 2019 FRG Annual Convention Florida Hotel & Conference Center in Orlando
FRG Newsletter Staff:
Carlos Pere FRG President
George Stocking FRG Newsletter Editor
FRG Newsletter Staff:
Carlos Pere FRG President
George Stocking FRG Newsletter Editor