The Heartlander Newsletter: Winter 2016

President’s Message, by Douglas Olender

I would like to invite all members of the BVA’s Heartland Regional Group and your families to join us from April 14th to 17th for our annual meeting in Branson, MO. We will be reviewing the status of the Heartland Regional Group, electing our officers and delegation to the National Convention, and enjoying learning about various items related to visual impairments from guest speakers. We secured an excellent room rate and more information may be found in the annual meeting’s announcement section. We also have started a monthly support group teleconference slated for the second Tuesday at 1100 of each month. Simply dial into our teleconference line at (866) 820-9940 to participate. More information may be found in the Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services section.
Over the Christmas Holiday, I had the pleasure to attend the Hines Blind Rehab Center for a little refresher. Lasting 12 days, it was a great visit because I went there on the 20th of Dec, which was a great time to go because they were not a lot of people and that left the instructors more time to spend with you. I received some excellent training on the Macbook Pro and the iPhone 6S. The instructor’s knowledge of windows and Mac proved beneficial, assisting me to convert a file so we can now print or own labels. The instructor also enhanced my proficiency with the iPhone, especially with the contacts, calendar, Siri, and other features and apps. Even though some items were not on hand, I still received the training on them and received them upon returning home. In 12 days I accomplished more than I had in the last year.
Life at the Edward J. Hines Jr VA Blind Rehab Center, by Gus Adams

This was my second tour for four weeks at the Hines VA for The Visually Impaired. The training is above reproach and you will always use the lessons taught to you, whether it is the cane training or the belt you have to put together. (Everyone that has already been to Hines knows what I’m talking about). The Hine VA gave me a feeling of being worth more than I am. The instructors know more than what they receive credit for. With the Hospitalized Vets only four blocks away you can get your leather projects for free. I put together wallets, checkbook covers and other leather projects.

Annual Meeting Announcement, by Paul Mimms

The Heartland Regional Group invites you to attend our annual meeting from April 14 to 17th at the Westgate Branson Woods Resort, 2201 Roark Valley Road, Branson MO 65616. basic room rate is $59.00 plus tax per night. Each room consists of two beds, so rooms can be shared to lower the cost of this very affordable event. Pictures and additional information on the rooms might be found at:
If you are interested in attending the annual meeting and staying for the entire event, you must make your own reservations by calling, 1(877)502-7058, and mentioning the group code, “14-576.”. The agenda for the event is as follows:

  • April 14
  • 3:00 pm Reception
  • 7:00 pm hospitality room
  • April 15
  • 8:30 Opening Ceremonies (presentation of colors, pledge, etc.)
  • 9:00 Speaker Candice Law, kC VA Optometry
  • 10:00 MO Rehab Services, Envision
  • 11:00 Wolffner Library
  • 12:00 Lunch
  • 1:00 Centers for Independent Living
  • 2:00 BVA Field Service Office
  • 2:00 Opening business meeting (nominations, bylaw update, legislative update, etc.)
  • 7:00 Hospitality room
  • April 16
  • 9:00 Tech updates
  • 10:30 Closing business meeting
  • 6:00 Banquet followed by hospitality room

More information will be provided in future newsletters and in the official announcement. Contact Paul Mimms at 816 266-1773 or if you have questions or comments.

Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services, by Timothy Hornik

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans with or are interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.>

We are pleased to offer our first method to reach us by phone. Howard Adams. has agreed to field any calls individuals might have about the Heartland Regional Group. You can reach him at the below number, which is also located on the bottom of each page:

  • (913) 730-0404

We truly hope each of you take advantage of these numerous ways to connect with your fellow blinded Veterans.

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Many of us received the NLS BARD digital talking books player to enjoy the practically endless listening enjoyment of audio books. This device is free from the Library of Congress and requires little to find yourself mastering the machine. However, do you know about the Humanware Victor Reader Stream or the Hims Blaze ET? Both the Victor Reader Stream and Blaze ET allows you to download NLS BARD books straight from their servers and onto these devices, removing the need to download or wait for the mail to delivery your next books.
Even better, both The Victor Reader and Blaze ET fits into your pocket, possesses a 12-hour removable battery, and acts as a digital recorder with the push of a button. Choosing between the two depends on your needs from such a device. The Victor Reader offers a very clean and easy to navigate user interface with crystal clear voices. Its integration with popular podcast and internet radio catchers places a multitude of content at your fingertips. Differently, the Blaze ET offers a built-in camera with LED to scan documents and listen to them, color recognizer, and a FM tuner. If you are interested in learning more about these devices, contact your VIST for more information, as Blind Rehab Services have issued both.
For more about blind tech, join my team during our monthly Blind Vet Tech teleconference. If you like podcasts, subscribe to our Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast by searching for us in your favorite podcast catcher. Finally, you can review our posts at:

How the BVA Created the VIST Program, by George Stocking

Editor’s Note: the below sections come from George Stocking of the Florida Regional Group with his permission to reprint the articles. These provide an excellent summary of the BVA’s efforts to create 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 relates that 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 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 BV’s were sent to Valley Forge Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and Dibble AGH in California and Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard BV’s 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 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 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 was refined and BV’s began receiving comprehensive rehabilitation training.  When BV’s 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 BV’s 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 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.  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 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 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.  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.

Editor’s Note: Mirroring these past efforts, the Heartland Regional Group continuously advocates for our VIST coordinators. Over the last five years, we successfully reinstated the full-time VIST positions at the KC VAMC and Eastern Kansas VAMC. These facilities lost their VIST due to the VAMC’s Directors and staff desire to restructure programs. We strive to work closely with all of the Kansas and Missouri VIST, promoting a cohesive partnership.

Act Now and Join the BVA and Heartland Regional Group
Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

¥ (800) 669 7079

The Heartlander is edited by Timothy Hornik, LMSW, and Paul Mimms, MSW. For more information or for prior issues, visit Without your support of the Heartland Regional Group or the Blinded Veterans Association at large, visually impaired Veterans will lose the only congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization advocating for programs, services, and benefits for blinded Veterans. Ask yourself what can you do to assist another blinded Veteran, and not what can someone do for you.