The Heartland Newsletter, Summer 2017

Editor’s Message, by Timothy Hornik

Thank you for reading our latest installment of the Heartlander, the official newsletter of the Heartland Regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association. This issue covers the different methods we developed to pull us closer together, summary of the Heartland 2017 Annual Meeting in Branson, a snapshot of the BVA’s national board of directors mid-year meeting, and some recent and upcoming events and activities. If you have ever forgot the number of your Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator or when one of our teleconferences might occur, just page through any of our newsletters to find who, what, when, where, and how to engage. If you are a blinded Veteran reading this and are not a member of the BVA, now is the time to join. A lifetime membership has been dropped to $20. Your support as a lifetime member allows us to publish these newsletters, operate our teleconferencing services, and execute programs like our meetings and outdoors excursions.

We received special recognition from the Missouri Secretary of State, John R. Ashcroft, for our donation to the Wolffner Library Gift Trust Fund. Paul Mimms presented our donation during our annual conference in Branson. The main part of the letter read:

Thank you for contributing to the Wolffner Library Gift Trust Fund. As you know every Missourian deserves access to the literature and news that enrich our world. Your gift helps ensure Wolffner Library’s continued ability to fulfill its mission of providing quality library services to Missourians with visual and physical disabilities. By law. interest earned on the Trust each year is dedicated to Wolffner Library’s vital work.

Supporting organizations like the Wolffner Library requires no debate, given the countless numbers of our fellow blind and visually impaired citizens who benefit. If you know of any organizations and non-profits we may serve, please contact us.

Join the Conversation, by Timothy Hornik

The Heartland Regional Group is tasked with fostering communications and planning activities for the blinded Veterans residing in Kansas and Missouri. This tasks requires an innovated approach to promote dialogue between all of our members and supporters. If you wish to receive updates and let your voices be heard, we have several options to connect us all. You can subscribe to our blog, join our email discussion group, or follow our Facebook page.

If you would like to receive announcements, relevant articles, and our newsletters straight to your inbox, consider visiting and subscribing to our blog at The website features our latest news, how to connect with our peer support teleconferences, and information about blindness and beneficial technology for independence.

If you prefer email updates and discussions, our email discussion group is perfect for you. The private group ensures only our fellow blinded Veterans and supporters may join the discussion, ensuring our privacy. If you wish to join or know someone who should be invited, send an email to Paul at or Timothy at a message with the name and preferred email. Once added, participation just requires sending an email to

Finally, show us how much you like us through Facebook. Visit, and be sure to Like and Follow the page. This will notify you about new posts and replies from the group.

As blinded Veterans of the Heartland regional group, its up to each of us to determine our group’s future. Our success depends on how we are able to come together to determine our own goals. So we hope you take the time to sign up and join the conversation.

2017 Annual Meeting Recap, by Paul Mimms

The annual meeting of the Heartland regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association was held April 20 to 23, 2017. The event was located at Branson in the Woods Resort, Branson MO.

On April 20, the arrival day there was a greeting reception. All meals were furnished by the regional Group. In attendance were Jeannie Murphy, Koi Law, Robert Evans, Douglas Olender, Mark Wilson, Victor Press, Randy Talleur, Paul Mimms, as well as Dennis Leonhardt and Ron Challicomb. Joining were non-veterans Sanford Alexander, Gus McClelland, presenters, and spouses of veterans, along with volunteers from Friends and Family of the Heartland.
Friday featured presentations from MO and KS talking Book libraries, MO and KS services for the blind, the VISP program at Kansas City VAMC and the Kansas City BROS, and technology presentations and demonstrations by Nanopac.

During the business meeting, no officers we’re elected since officer elections are held on even-numbered years. Timothy Hornik’s appointment as Vice President was approved by vote of members present. A plaque was presented to retired VIST Coordinator Sanford Alexander. Checks for $150.00 each were presented as donations to MO and KS Talking Book Libraries.
Mark Wilson was elected as delegate too the 72nd BVA convention in Jacksonville August 14 – 18, and Paul Mimms will be alternate delegate and Bylaws and Resolutions rep.

Saturday featured a discussion covering ways that attendees could assist in furthering the missions of BVA and Heartland RG, including discussion of recruitment materials given to each. After some discussion, the members attending voted to return to the resort, but were not in favor of moving the date of the meeting to the week of March 28 to coincide with Blinded Veterans Day, given that the following Sunday would be Easter Sunday..

The meeting adjourned with retirement of colors shortly after the beginning of the dinner Saturday.

Recent and Upcoming Events, By Timothy Hornik

The only way all of us Veterans of the Heartland may gain notoriety occurs through activities. How else may we truly demonstrate our motto of blinded Veterans assisting blinded Veterans. Over the last couple of months we have conducted the previously mentioned annual meeting in Branson, but we also pulled together to celebrate National Blinded Veterans Day, participated in the 29th Kansas City Trolly Run, and carried out our monthly Heartland teleconference.

Next on our list of tasks includes the BVA National Convention, the Kansas Capital Tour, and National Blind Americans Equality Day. The Blinded Veterans Association National Convention is the premier gathering of blinded Veterans from across the country. This year’s festivities will occur in Jacksonville. Mark Wilson, Shelton Ponder, Paul Mimms, Victor Prez, and Randy will be on hand to represent the Heartland. We will be looking forwards to hearing what they learned from the national convention.

On October 3rd, the Heartland Regional Group is sponsoring a tour of the Kansas capital building in Topeka. We owe Dawn Clouse, Eastern Kansas VAMC VIST and her support group, the DAV chapters in Leavenworth and Topeka, and the Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired much thanks for supporting this endeavor with transportation, personnel, and resources. Falling on the heels of the capital tour will be Blind Americans Equality Day on October 15th. We urge each of you to contact your VIST and see how you can volunteer to spread the message about blindness. We have information packets and resources if needed.

BVA Mid-Year Meeting Recap, by Paul Mimms

The Executive committee composed of President Dale Stamper, Vice President Joe Parker, secretary Paul Mimms, and Treasurer Joe McNiel, visited VA Central Office in Washington DC on Monday. They met with Blind Rehab Services Chief Gale Watson and her staff, VA Office of Information Technology including the Section 508 compliance team, and VA Specialty Services including a contingent from VA Pharmacy.

The meeting with Ms. Watson focussed on program vacancies around the country, construction progress at various facilities, and changing features of BRS. The talks with VA OIT centered on ongoing issues regarding section 508 compliance, with check-in kiosks remaining as a major concern. Other issues discussed included progress on accessibility and usability of VA web resources, including MyHealthEVet, VA benefits forms and information, and the progress on the site.

The meeting with Specialty Service and Pharmacy dealt with requested changes in the level of information included on labels of the Scriptalk prescription bottle reader, maintaining that what is available in VA lags behind what is currently available outside VA. One point in the discussion was the recent death of a veteran that was ascribed to the lack of information on his prescription bottle. The death of the veteran was determined to b due to his drinking grapefruit juice with a medicine missing the warning against it on the medication label.

On the second day the Legislative committee was joined by the District Directors for visits to several offices on Capitol Hill. Among the visits were presentation by BVA of two plaques to award Congressional members Sandra Brownlee and John Testor for their support of BVA efforts over the years.

Wednesday morning featured the presentation of BVA’s legislative testimony by President Dale Stamper to the Congressional Veteran Affairs committee. Wednesday afternoon, the board began its meetings with a review and discussion of the organization’s strategic

The meetings continued on Thursday to include District Director reports, committee reports, staff department reports, and convention plans, concluding on Friday.

Teleconferences for Support and Growth, by Timothy Hornik
One of the hardest parts of being visually impaired are transportation barriers. We in the Heartland resolve this obstacle through teleconferences from peer support to learning more about becoming an advocate for the blind. Please consider attending or sharing this information.

General Teleconferences

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of the month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am CST
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940

BVA Discussion Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of the month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm CST
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940

Monthly Guide Dog Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of the month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am CST
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940

Technology Specific Teleconferences

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm CST
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940

Blind Vet Tech MacOS Monthly Talk

  • When: second Thursday of the month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm CST
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940

Hines Blind Center Alumni iOS Talk

  • When: first Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1000 or 10:00 Am CST
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125

Hines Blind Center Alumni Windows Computers Talk

  • When: first Thursday of each month
  • : 1000 or 10:00 Am CST
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125

VIST Roster, By Timothy Hornik

The Visual Impairment Services Coordinators are our gatekeepers for the VA’s Blind Rehab Services and training. Below are the VIST throughout Kansas and Missouri. Their position is to serve visually impaired Veterans.

Kansas City VA Medical Center

Paul Clary, Phone: (816) 861-4700, Ext: 56294

Columbia VA Medical Center

Lauren Swift, Phone: (573) 814-6458

St. Louis Cochran VA Medical Center

Kevin Jacques, Phone: (314) 652-4100, Ext: 54121

VA Medical Center of the Ozarks

Paula Ellington, Phone: (479) 443-4301, Ext: 65364

Eastern Kansas VA Medical Center

Dawn, Phone: )913) 682-2000, Ext: 53825

Wichita VA Medical Center

Bob Hamilton
Phone: (316) 685-2221, Ext: 53682

AIRA the On Demand Sighted Assistant, by Blind Not Alone, LLC

Have you wished for an on demand sighted assistant to assist you while shopping, cooking, or just walking around the neighborhood? Many of us reside with family members, have nearby friends, and other individuals to aid in these tasks most of the time, but not all of the time. Even after completing training from a Blind Rehab Center and equipped with portable OCR solutions, money readers, IDMates, and the myriad of recognition apps on iPhones, we as visually impaired Veterans still may overlook or completely miss part of an address or the only entrance door for an office building. Aira, a San Diego based technology and services resolves these common situations. The solution is simple: pair the visually impaired individual with an AIRA agent through a pair of smart glasses.

Agents remotely serve the role of sighted assistant, able to read labels, menus, instructions or other items that may be important to the user at any given time. Most importantly, agents and users create relationships over time and give each confidence in the other.

Access to the agents is a simple process. An Aira user presses a button on the glasses or the app on the smart phone to initiate a session with an agent and response is immediate. A user can interact with an agent that is randomly contacted or can specify one with whom there is already a relationship. While the service is not yet available 24 hours a day, seven days week, the goal is AIRA will hire and train enough agents by the end of the year to ensure this 24/7 availability. Currently agents are available from 0400 to 2200 Pacific Standard Time.

Like me, many veterans use a guide dog and that will certainly never change. In fact, the company’s founders would never suggest that this is a replacement for a guide dog or family member serving as a sighted assistant. But I am finding any number of activities that Aira enables that simply are not possible otherwise.

For example, I have arranged an Uber ride from my house to Walmart. The agent notified me when the driver approached my house and location of the car once stopped. After sharing my shopping list with the agent, the agent guided me throughout the store, exponentially expediting the shopping process when compared to the in store assistant. Even better yet, the agent pointed out other items I might be interested in trying, like different types of coffee creamers to items on sale. Upon completion, the agent hailed a Uber ride and helped me put away the groceries.

Have you ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture by OCR’ing the instructions or pulling them up online? Pretty impossible, without the AIR agent. Working as a dynamic team, the agent guided me through the entire process, from unpacking to final placement. The agent relied on both the camera view and those pesky instructions downloaded from the web.

AIRA is not yet available as a prosthetic device through the VA Blind Rehab Services, but the Palo Alto BRC and the Atlanta VAMC started the evaluation process. Once adopted, eligible Veterans may request information on the AIRA. However, there is one very important note, AIRA requires a subscription. Veterans will be required to pay $29 per month for 400 minutes of time with an agent. If you acquire AIRA outside the VA, the cost is $89 for 200 minutes, $129 for 400 minutes, and $189 for unlimited. While those who acquire AIRA outside the VA must return the smart glasses upon termination of a subscription, AIRA and the VA have not worked out the details for what happens to the smart glasses should a Veteran cease to pay the monthly subscription.

Do not let a lack of understanding or familiarity keep you away from assistive technologies, by staying up to date with Blind Not Alone’s Blind Vet Tech team. Learn about iOS devices or technology news through the Blind Vet Tech podcasts on your Victor Reader Stream, Hims Blaze, or smart phone. You can receive our email news and announcements by signing up for our newsletters at Finally, join us for our previously listed Blind Vet Tech teleconferences, and learn from your peers.

Final Note, By Timothy Hornik

Thank you for your continued support of blinded Veterans across the Heartland. We can not fulfill our obligations without your support of our blinded Veteran peers and the Heartland Regional Group. If you are a blinded Veteran but not a member of the Blinded Veterans Association, I request you take full advantage of us and become a member. Lifetime membership costs $20, regardless of your age. If you are interested contact the BVA at:

  • Blinded Veterans Association
  • (800) 669 7079

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.

Blinded Veterans of the Heartland Monthly Teleconference for June 13

This is an announcement for the monthly Blinded Veterans of the Heartland teleconference for June 13th. These sessions are open to any member of the Heartland Regional Group of the BVA, any visually impaired Veterans interested in learning more about us, and any family members and supporters residing across Kansas and Missouri. June’s call will be an open discussion, with the goal to solicit ideas for enhancing the lives of blinded Veterans. This calls participation details are:

  • Tuesday, June 13
  • 1100 Central Time
  • (866) 820-9940

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from Blinded Veterans of the Heartland, by visiting us at our homepage, liking and following our Facebook Page, or requesting admittance to our email discussion group.