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.
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.
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.
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.