The Heartlander Newsletter, Fall 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 BVA’s 72nd National Convention, our tour of the Topeka capital tour, changes throughout the BVA, and our usual listing of VIST points of contact, teleconference services, and tech update.

If you are a blinded Veteran reading this and are not a member of the BVA, please consider joining now. Lifetime membership is on a sliding scale based on age starting at $100 and decreasing to $50. Your support as a lifetime member allows us to publish these newsletters and execute our outreach mission.

New BVA Staff Phone Numbers, by BVA Staff

The Blinded Veterans Association recently underwent major changes within its national offices. This is to reduce overhead costs for the organization. No longer will a receptionist answer the BVA’s main number, rather and automated service guides callers. You will need to dial the main number at 202-371-8880. After the greeting, you can wait to hear all options, or directly dial the extension of the individual you wish to reach. Below is the list of all extensions for each person.  After the greeting you will member.  Names and extensions are as follows:

Al Avina, Executive Director, extension 304
Brigitte Jones, Administrative Director, extension 330
Kathy Ruais, CFO, extension 317
Cecilia Montenegro, Membership Coordinator, extension 315
Melanie Brunson, Public Affairs Director, extension 305
Ed Eckroth, Field Services Director, extension 322

Other changes to the BVA includes the removal of the $20 lifetime membership dues. The membership voted to reject a by-law amendment that would have made it permanent, and the board of directors failed to pass an internal policy change to retain the $20 lifetime members dues for another year. The membership at the BVA convention also opted to simply give all of the national officers their usual promotion, so do not expect any changes to improve the BVA from the President.

72nd BVA National Convention Experience, by Shelton Ponder

Recently, I attended the national blinded veteran’s association convention held in Jacksonville, Florida, as an alternate delegate from our heartland regional group. My flight began at MCI airport in Kansas City, and terminated in Jacksonville, Florida. At the Jacksonville airport, I was greeted by a gracious volunteer and directed to a shuttle that delivered me and another veteran named Steve Larson, to the Hyatt hotel. We were taken into the hotel where we were checked in for room assignments.

After getting settled in my room, I along with other veterans and their company met in the ballroom for a wonderful dinner, where I began to meet other veterans and their company, whom I would see and associate with for the remainder of the convention in meetings and socially. Also, I met Paul Mimm, who is our regional group’s secretary/treasurer and BVA’s secretary. There were veterans whom I had met while attending the Hines blind rehab center in Chicago.

As an alternate delegate, I attended the various meetings held during the day, which included business meetings, reports given by various members, and advocates who had information pertinent to the attendees. There was a myriad of vendors with a wide assortment of equipment that could be used by visually impaired veterans. The vendors were very informative about their products, and had brochures along with samples for the attendees. A silent auction was conducted with many things that we could bid on at our convenience.

The father Carroll memorial luncheon was held in the grand ballroom, and the guest speaker, mike Hudson, delivered one of father Carroll’s inspiring speeches. A certificate of appreciation was presented to recipients who had made contributions that enhanced lives of visually impaired veterans.

New officers were presented after caucusing by the various districts. Those veterans who were candidates for the various offices gave brief speeches, and later, the voting took place, where new officers were elected. Upon the completion of the voting and tallying, the new officers were presented to the veterans.
Mr. Paul Mimms, from our regional group, was elected vice-president.

The last day, Friday, final business was discussed, and in the evening a dinner was held for all the attendees. The incoming president was presented along with the other newly elected officers. Awards were presented to people who were recognized for their involvement with the blinded veteran’s association and its members.

I was one of the new members of a group of veterans in what is called: operation peer support. After the final benediction was given, those veterans of ‘operation peer support’ met briefly and were given mementos. Also, pictures were taken of the group.
after an evening of last good-byes, some of the veterans and their company enjoyed the hospitality suite where we exchanged information so we could stay in touch throughout the year.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the ‘blinded veteran’s association 72nd national convention. The entire staff was exemplary in every way, and greatly enhanced the convention to the most minute detail. I expect to attend future conventions and support the group in any way possible because it is a worthwhile entity for all of us to share.

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 had several of our members participate in the 72nd BVA National Convention and came together via our monthly Heartlander teleconferences to plan our upcoming meetings.

On October 3rd, approximately 50 blinded Veterans, family members, Disabled American Veterans chapter members, and Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired toured the Topeka capital buildings, enjoyed lunch together, and received a wonderful presentation by the Kansas Commission of Veteran Affairs. On October 5, Paul Mimms spearheaded the Veterans outreach endeavors and raised awareness about AIRA while attending the Missouri Council of the Blind’s state convention in Kansas City. Later in October, our efforts to advocate for a visually impaired division in the Kansas City Marathon succeeded, as our own Vice President, Timothy Hornik, will run the full marathon. Tim is guided by Chris Benjamin, who guided Tim on the Trolley Run and other blinded Veterans at the California International Marathon. He is joined by the Boston Marathon visually impaired division champion for three years running, Ian.

Updating to iOS 11, by Blind Not Alone, LLC

The frenzy to download and update your iPhones and iPads to iOS 11 is upon us. The update brings a host of new features from cutting edge Augmented reality capabilities, apps which incorporates machine learning to improve accuracy of responses over time, searching with handwriting, Siri becomes a translator to English, and Voice Over stability tweaks. For a complete analysis of the iOS 11 update, visit, as well as podcasts demonstrating these features.

It is my opinion that iOS 11 is safe for Voice Over users to download and install. I have been using iOS 11 on my primary iPhone 6 128GB since the start of the Public Beta release at the end of June. My main concern is for individuals with devices older than iPhone 6. My iPhone 6 behaved rather sluggish throughout the beta and even after the official release. This is even after reseting it to factory defaults and installing iOS 11. So if you use an iPhone 5S, Mini 2, and similar aged products, Voice Over may not react very smoothly all of the time.

Follow-Up on AIRA, by Blind Not Alone, LLC

Our previous issue allowed us to introduce you all to AIRA, a pair of smart glasses that connects you to a sighted assistant on demand. AIRA is available at the KC VA. To qualify, you will need to possess an iPhone, which you can receive training on from the KC VISP, Hines BRC, or through Blind Not Alone. The AIRA for Veterans plan will require Veterans to pay $29 per month, if the VA issues you AIRA. This package provides Veterans with 400 minutes with an AIRA agent, to assist you with your various tasks. Even better yet, AIRA will be rolling out an integrated OCR AI that will be able to read printed text. Regain your independence through AIRA, and never waste time trying to flag down some sighted assistance again.

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.

New MEDICARE Cards Coming in 2018, By Center for MEDICARE Services

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) gave the public its first look at the newly designed Medicare card. The new Medicare card contains a unique, randomly-assigned number that replaces the current Social Security-based number.

CMS will begin mailing the new cards to people with Medicare benefits in April 2018 to meet the statutory deadline for replacing all existing Medicare cards by April 2019. In addition to today’s announcement, people with Medicare will also be able to see the design of the new Medicare card in the 2018 Medicare & You Handbook. The handbooks are being mailed and will arrive throughout September.
“The goal of the initiative to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards is to help prevent fraud, combat identify theft, and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “We’re very excited to share the new design.”

CMS has assigned all people with Medicare benefits a new, unique Medicare number, which contains a combination of numbers and uppercase letters. People with Medicare will receive a new Medicare card in the mail, and will be instructed to safely and securely destroy their current Medicare card and keep their new Medicare number confidential. Issuance of the new number will not change benefits that people with Medicare receive.

Healthcare providers and people with Medicare will be able to use secure look-up tools that will allow quick access to the new Medicare numbers when needed. There will also be a 21-month transition period where doctors, healthcare providers, and suppliers will be able to use either their current SSN-based Medicare Number or their new, unique Medicare number, to ease the transition.

This initiative takes important steps towards protecting the identities of people with Medicare. CMS is also working with healthcare providers to answer their questions and ensure that they have the information they need to make a successful transition to the new Medicare number. For more information, please visit:

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 Unite to Celebrate Each Other at the Kansas Capital Complex

Group photo of the participants of the blinded Veteran Kansas Capital Tour with Topeka in the background.
On October 3rd, approximately 40 blinded veterans, family, and volunteers stormed the Kansas Capital. Members of the Leavenworth and Topeka Visual Impairment Support Groups, Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans Leavenworth Chapter, Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs, Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and VA Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator and Blind Rehab Outpatient Specialists met for the first time on a tour of the historic complex. This trip bridged blindness’ largest barrier, geographical distance. Additionally, the event introduced the blinded Veterans to federal, state, and private benefits for being a Veteran or visually impaired Kansan.
Group photo of all of the blinded Veterans, volunteers, and staff who made the Kansas Capital Tour possible on October 3rd, 2017
The day started early, with Veterans hitching rides or Uber to link up with volunteers from the DAV. Once everyone boarded their respective vans, the group met within the confines of the Kansas Capital Visitor’s Center. Immediately Veterans and volunteers started talking with each other or the news team from Topeka’s Channel 13 or the VA’s public affairs office. Next the group received two options for the morning, journey through the history of the capital complex and Kansas, or venture up the 294 stairs to the summit of the building’s dome.
Blinded Veteran looking into the interior of the dome structure in the Kansas capital complex.
Upon completion, everyone enjoyed the sponsored lunch from the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association and the Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Mike, Cathy, and Lauren of the Randal Shepard concessions stand throughout Topeka supplied the box lunches and salads. This arrangement supported the overall objective of the day, showcasing blindness’ possibilities.
Couple of Veterans in wheelchairs in a hallway with high arches inside the Kansas capital complex.
The afternoon featured educational sessions by the Kansas Commission for Veterans Affairs, KABVI, VA Blind Rehab Services, and representatives of the Heartland Regional Group. Wayne of KCVA enlightened Veterans on the various state and federal Veterans benefits. A recent law enabling Veterans with a disabled Veteran license plate or sticker to park for free at any Kansas metered parking spot grabbed everyone’s attention. Nancy Johnson from KABVI described KABVI’s services, the support group which meets the second Saturday at 1300, and provide a legislative update related to blindness in Kansas. Dawn and Sam of the VA’s BRS summarized available services for visually impaired Veterans. Finally, Paul of the BVA announced our regional groups annual convention in Branson in April.

Overall, the day accomplished its primary goal to assist blinded Veterans. Several of the participants struggle each month just to attend their local VIST support group, so being able to journey to Topeka greatly enhanced their morale. Several Veterans remarked despite living in Kansas for over twenty years, they never visited the capital complex or knew about some of Kansas’ history. Even the volunteers learned much about blindness and offered their support for future endeavors.

The Kansas Capital Tour for blinded Veterans would not have been possible without the support from the Eastern Kansas VAMC Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator, the Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs, and the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association. IN particular, Dawn, Tim, and Wayne spent countless hours over the last six months planning and coordinating the day’s events. If you have an idea for an event for blinded Veterans, do not let the idea slip away, but contact us immediately. By working together, we can build the community necessary for our blinded Veterans to integrate into their communities and increase their quality of life through programs and events.

Click here to experience the trip on our Facebook Page.

Click here to watch Channel 13’s coverage.