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 http://BlindNotAlone.com/blog, 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 BlindVetTech.BlindNotAlone.com. 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: www.cms.gov/newcard

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
  • http://bva.org/join.html

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.

Blinded Veterans Unite for a Tour of the Topeka Capital

On October 3rd, Blinded Veterans from the Topeka and Leavenworth VA Visual Impairment Services Team support groups will meet each other for the first time during a tour of the Topeka Capital. This event is being hosted through a joint venture between the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association, Blind Not Alone LLC, and the VIST coordinator at the Topeka and Leavenworth VA. The Topeka and Leavenworth chapters of the Disabled American Veterans, Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs are supporting the trip by transporting the blinded Veterans, providing educational and peer support opportunities, and securing spaces for the group to learn more about Kansas blindness and Veteran resources. Special guests includes potential visits by Lt. Gov. Collyer and other elected officials during the lunch or afternoon.

The group consists of approximately 45 participants, with the main focus on the 24 blinded Veterans and their caregivers. The remaining individuals consist of Veterans from the DAV, VA Blind Rehab Services from the Eastern Kansas and KC VAMC, and KABVI members. Blinded Veterans possess several identities, being blind, a Veterans, and in many cases having other disabilities. The multiple identities enables each individual to access a variety of programs and services empowering them to live fulfilling and independent lives.

By uniting the two support groups, the trip aims to instill a sense of belonging amongst the Veterans. Traveling between Topeka and Leavenworth imposes a severe barrier for these two support groups to meet. Thanks to the volunteerism and camaraderie from our fellow Veterans and blinded Kansans makes this meeting possible. This is the goal of our organizations, bridge the divides between each other through community development.

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 http://heartland.blindnotalone.com. 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 paul8655@gmail.com or Timothy at info@blindnotalone.com a message with the name and preferred email. Once added, participation just requires sending an email to heartlander@googlegroups.com.

Finally, show us how much you like us through Facebook. Visit, https://facebook.com/blindedveteran/ 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 vet.gov 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
plan.

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 BlindVetTech.BlindNotAlone.com. 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
  • http://bva.org/join.html

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.

VA’s Visual Impairment Services Team Program

Eligibility For The VA’s Visual Impairments Services Team (VIST) Program

The VIST program provides services to veterans who are legally blind or visually impaired. Eligibility is defined in a number of ways. The VIS Coordinator is the local VA facility subject matter expert with regard to blindness and low vision. The Coordinator provides case management of blind and visually impaired Veterans. Visually impaired veterans are provided restorative services and referrals on a consultation basis. Non- legally blind veterans are provided services as needed (PRN). All veterans referred to the program receive an assessment of needs and appropriate interventional strategies. The three main ways to qualify includes:

  1. Legal blindness – Best corrected visual acuity of 20/200 on a Snellen eye chart or fields no greater than 20 degrees with both eyes.
  2. Functional vision impairment – Functional visual impairment is a significant limitation of visual capability resolution from disease, trauma or congenital condition that cannot be fully corrected by standard refractive correction, medication or surgery, and is manifested by one or more of the following; (1)insufficient visual resolution (worse than 20/60 in the better eye); (2) inadequate field of vision (worse than 20 degrees along the widest meridian in the eye with the more intact central field) or homonymous hemianopia; (3) reduced peak contrast sensitivity; and (4) insufficient visual resolution or peak contrast sensitivity (see 1 and 3) at high or low lighting within a range typically encountered in every day life.
  3. Excess disabilities – An excess disability is characterized by problems and task performance difficulties related to vision loss that have a substantial impact on the person’s functional independence or personal safety, and that are out of proportion to the degree of visual impairment as measured by visual acuities or visual fields.  Veterans whose vision is better than legal blindness may have excess disability due to; (1) sudden and/or traumatic visual disorder (especially related to military service); (2) disabling co-morbidities (e.g., hearing impairment, mobility impairment, etc.); (3) systemic diseases that cause fluctuating visual impairment; (4) combined losses of other vision functions (e.g. contrast sensitivity, stereopsis, etc.); (5) sudden changes in caregiver status; or (6) other reasons.

If you have or know a Veteran that meets any of these criteria, contact your nearest Veterans Affairs Medical Center and ask for their Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator. If you wish to talk with a blinded Veteran before taking this first step, contact the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association at )816) 718-2792 or (785) 409-1838. The VA offers Veterans a variety of services from low vision clinics to extensive blind rehabilitation training for qualified Veterans. Additionally, legally blind Veterans receive the priority designation of Catastrophically disabled level 4 (or Cat4), opening numerous benefits and services.

Visual Impairment Services Team Coordinators for Kansas and Missouri

The Visual Impairment Services Team coordinators are our gatekeepers for the VA’s low vision and blind rehabilitation programs. Listed below are the VIST coordinators serving Veterans throughout Kansas, Missouri, and parts of Illinois, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.

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 Clouse
  • Phone: )913) 682-2000, Ext: 53825

Wichita VA Medical Center

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

Thank You Mothers For Your Service

Happy Mothers’ Day to all of our mothers here. Your children and families thank you for instilling lessons about leadership, duty, selfless-sacrifice, and service from watching you balance military and family obligations. For the mothers with children in the military, we thank you for the countless mail, calls, touches of home, and other items you sent us. Thank you for being there on a moment’s call when we needed someone to cover down at home or watch and explain to our kids, families, and everyone else about our service. For our partners, thank you for being by our side and covering down for us or being the only one around to keep us from crumbling apart while deployed or recovering from injuries.

Without our Mothers out there, we would not be here. Thank you to all of the Moms for being mom.

Military Moms are a special type of Mom. If you want the picture of a true hero, imagine being deployed and with the duties and responsibilities to ensure the safety of your unit and professional development of your Soldiers, Sailors, airmen, or Marines. When you are back in your room, you then switch over to helping your kids with homework or conversing with your partner/family. So how you maintain composure and skillfully switch between roles without missing a step.

Now imagine you are the spouse of a Service Member and your partner is away, and you are now a geographical single parent. Juggling all of your normal duties and responsibilities alongside those your partner used to fulfill becomes a normal part of your life. Is it easy, no, but you pull if off without a second thought.

Now imagine you are a Mom who is worried about your child or children who are in the military and you know not what is in their future. You take on any opportunities to assist, and maintain a steadfast composure despite the constant worrying about the safety and wellbeing of your child.

These are just a few of the ways Moms find themselves when in the military. Somehow Moms find the strength, patience, and endurance to overcome these extraordinary situations, making them the true heroes.

Thank you Moms.

Heartland’s 3 Ways to Promote Dialogue

The Heartland Regional Group is tasked with fostering communications and planning activities for the blinded Veterans residing in Kansas and Missouri. These tasks require 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.

Blinded Veterans of the Heartland Website

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

Email Discussion Group

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 us, and include your name and preferred email. Once added, you will receive an email with information on how to send and reply to the group.

Heartland on Facebook
Finally, show us how much you like us through Facebook. Visit, https://facebook.com/blindedveteran/ 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.

Celebrating National Blinded Veterans Day on March 28th

March 28 commemorates the 72nd anniversary when approximately 100 World War II blinded Veterans banded together and declared their independence. These heroes came together at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital, where war blinded received therapy to cope with sight loss. The assembly established the Blinded Veterans Association and commenced advocacy efforts for the establishment of what we now call the Department of Veterans Affairs Blind Rehab Services.

President Obama and the 111th Congress recognized the importance remembering March 28th as National Blinded Veterans Day by signing Public Law 111-156. Governor Sam Brownback validated the service of blinded Veterans by issuing the Heartland Regional Group with its own proclamation. “Today and every subsequent March 28th, I know the American people will remember the sacrifices of the thousands of Veterans who live with a visual impairment, thanks to our day,” remarks Timothy Hornik, the Vice President of the heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association. The Heartland Regional Group offers blinded Veterans various services from peer support to recreational programs.

General Omar Bradley, VA Administrator in the late 1940s, appointed BVA to be the first official representative for blinded veterans for the filing of claims and appeals to VA, making it only the eighth Veterans Service Organization to receive such authorization. In 1958, BVA received its congressional charter as a Veterans Service Organization.

Blinded Veterans continuously encourages their peers, families, and friends to do more than live with blindness but thrive. National Blinded Veterans Day represents more than a time to remember our Veterans services and sacrifices, but a day when we proudly announce our presence throughout the country. These actions aid in accomplishing our goals to regain independence, confidence, and self-esteem. It matters not if a Veteran’s blindness stems from military service to natural causes, since we all are Veterans living with a visual impairment.

How Blindness Impacts Different Generations of Veterans

Imagine you are in a combat zone and you find yourself disorientated and blind after being injured. Imagine you are in the middle of your career and an eye exam concludes with a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, which results in blindness. Imagine you approach retirement but age related macular degeneration or your exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam caused diabetes retinopathy altering your plans. These are just some of the ways Veterans find themselves developing a visual impairment, but rest assured there is hope. We, the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association, our here to assist our fellow Veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs projections estimates 147,887 severely visually impaired Veterans in FY2015, which declines to 140,436 by FY2020. This reduction largely stems from the passing of our greatest generations of Veterans from WWII through the Korean war, and advances in medical procedures staving off legal blindness. While declining numbers might depict positive change, the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Services (BRS) serves only 47,310 of these Veterans, due to lack of awareness of these benefits and entitlements. This article will describe how visual impairments impacts each generation of our nation’s Veterans, so you may assist in informing others about blindness related services for Veterans.

World War II and Korean War Veterans

Our WWII and Korean War Veterans face a combination of service and age related visual impairments. Conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes retinopathy, stroke related visual impairments, and retinal detachments are the prevailing conditions diminishing independence. Only 14,474 members of the Greatest Generation attended VA VRS services.

Vietnam Era Veterans

The VA recognizes numerous conditions associated with Agent Orange and other herbicides ranging from cancers to type II Diabetes. This allows Veterans to receive a VA service connected disability rating for conditions which arose later in life. Most notably are those secondary impacts from Diabetes. Alternatively, many of our Vietnam Era Veterans continue to reach the age when various age related conditions arise like glaucoma. VA statistics ranks Vietnam Veterans as the largest wartime era facing blindness with 39,869 cases.

Persian Gulf War Era Veterans

The swiftness of combat operations in Iraq leaves many to forget we sustained casualties, and overshadows the numerous other smaller deployments conducted throughout Central and South America, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Africa between the end of the Cold War and start of the Post 9/11 Era. Each of these left their marks through direct enemy engagements to exposure to toxins from burn pits to oil fields. VA BRS records identified 15,258 of these Veterans possess a severe visual impairments, with 3,586 residing outside the VA’s continuum of care. Visual impairments results from retinitis pigmentosa, service related injuries, and environmental exposures.

Operations Enduring Freedom,Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn

From the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Alliance on Eye and Vision Research reports that over 197,555 combat injuries impacted the optical system. Amongst those with a Traumatic Brain Injury, over 36,000 have presented in poly-trauma clinics with short to long term functional visual impairments. All of these differing conditions are directly related to penetrating or concussive/blast injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), shrapnel, gunshot wounds, and environmental incidents. There are still many more unreported cases of these recent Veterans with functional sight impairments that range from issues with glare, headaches, blind spots, reading difficulties, and numerous other conditions.

Department of Veterans Affairs Services

One should not give up hope, as the VA offers an array of Blind Rehabilitation Services that can occur anywhere from home based interventions to extended training within the Blind Rehab Centers. TO learn more about these programs ask your primary care team or eye doctors who your VAMC’s Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator is.

Heartland Regional Group

We form an integral part in assisting blinded Veterans through peer support services, raising awareness about BRS programs, and aiding individuals file disability claims for blindness. Our monthly teleconferences, participation at VA support groups, and presence throughout Kansas and Missouri ensures Veterans will have a chance to talk with others who shared their experiences. We understand the struggles adapting to blindness, so we encourage Veterans to attend day to extended inpatient VA blind rehab programs to regain their independence. Finally, many causes of blindness may be linked to military service, so we inform Veterans about their rights and how to pursue service connected disability ratings.