The 71st Blinded Veterans Association National Convention occurred from August 22 to 26 at the Hilton City Center Hotel in Milwaukee. The convention kicked off with the Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road (VIPER) Ride. John Carter, the Wisconsin Regional Group President organized the VIPER Ride with the goal of engaging convention participants, community supporters, and public awareness for blindness’ possibilities. This consisted of blinded veterans enjoying a 50-mile motorcycle ride, lunch, and, of course, the 50-mile return ride. All reviews consist of high praise and excitement for empowering them to experience the road, and plans will investigate continuing this program for future conventions.
Tuesday featured the exhibition hall’s opening and training seminars for attendees. This year’s exhibit hall consisted of the most vendors in recent history. Prominent among the offerings were several companies with headgear that contained hardware and software to perform tasks like OCR, GPS, money Identification, and recognition of faces and objects.
There were several education sessions that day. Included was a presentation on Medical Marijuana and its benefits. There was training for becoming a National Volunteer Service Officer (NVSO). Training sessions were held to assist Regional Group Presidents and Vice Presidents, and a separate session trained Secretaries and Treasurers in performing their duties within the regional group. There was also a legislative update and tips on how to impact legislation at local and national levels. Tuesday was capped off with the President’s reception.
The opening ceremonies on Wednesday morning invigorated all those in attendance. Starting off the ceremony the Wisconsin National Guard posted our National colors. The Mayor of Milwaukee then welcomed the BVA to the city. Governor Scot Walker enthusiastically spoke to the membership and presented his Governor’s Proclamation announcing the day as BVA’s day. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald completed the opening ceremony with a keynote address, highlighting the changes in the VA and his goals for the future.
Immediately following the opening ceremony, the opening business meetings set the tone for the rest of the week. This meeting included the financial report, presentation of the budget, and nominations for national office. No new nominees for any of the executive board positions were offered, so only the incumbents ran for their current seats.
Later in the day the Resolutions and Bylaws committee met to form recommendations to the membership. Additional meetings discussed the possibility of investigating new and operations of current special interest groups. Some of the groups proposed include Blind Golfing, a new Women Veterans Concerns Working group, and Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers. The evening consisted of the Council of Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers annual meeting, which transpired both in-person and through a call teleconferencing platform, uniting those present with members who could not physically attend. Other evening events includes a Brewers baseball game and trip to the casinos.
Thursday’s events started with a presentation by the Honorable Dr. David J. Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additional morning presentations consisted of vision research, consumer protection and the Sprint Vision Accessibility program. The Father Carroll Luncheon, officer candidate speeches, and district caucus meetings. rounded out the rest of Thursday’s schedule.
The closing business meeting occurred on Friday. The by-law amendment proposing a pathway to a balance budget failed by an overwhelming majority, 79% to 21%. The second Bylaw amendment passed, which transfers the selection of the National Convention location from the assembled delegation at the National Convention to the BVA’s Convention Coordinator and Board of Directors. The belief is the change would allow more efficient and cost conducive planning process for the National Convention. The two next Bylaws were technical corrections to our existing Bylaws, and also passed with no opposition. The fifth Bylaw amendment passed without objections, changing the lifetime membership cost to a flat $20 for all applicants. However, the flat membership rate will only be in effect from September 1st, 2016 until August 1st, 2017. As no one was nominated for any Executive Board position, all incumbents were reappointed, and consist of:
Robert Stamper, President
Joe Parker, Vice President
Paul Mimms, Secretary
Joe McNeil, Treasurer
The convention came to a festive close with the final banquet. The prestigious Major General Melvin J. Maas award was bestowed upon Wally Guerra of San Antonio. The selection for the next convention is unknown as of the drafting of this summary.