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.

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.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Windter 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 provides more information about our annual meeting and upcoming events, reviews Dr. David Shulkin’s selection as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and how home automation increases independence. 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. Information on joining may be found at the bottom of this newsletter.

We Need an Active Membership, by Timothy Hornik

The core values of the Blinded Veterans Association appears in our motto, Blinded Veterans assisting Blinded Veterans. We strive to live this statement in all of our actions as individuals members to senior leadership positions. Only through our active involvement in activities and individual efforts may we truly demonstrate these actions. We would like to offer three opportunities for you to assist not only our fellow Veterans with blindness, but the greater blindness community throughout Kansas and Missouri.

In January, we submitted request for a Governor’s Proclamation in Kansas and Missouri to remember National Blinded Veterans Day on March 28th. This stems from a 2010 BVA campaign resulting in President Obama’s approval of a resolution to commemorate the BVA’s 70th anniversary. This year the Heartland Regional Group strives to see National Blinded Veterans Day be remembered from the Governors’ offices down to our local VA medical centers. We will only be successful with your support. Please contact your local elected officials urging them to remember March 28th as National Blinded Veterans Day. We already received the below certificate from Governor Sam Brownback, and we need you to do your part.

2017 National Blinded Veterans Day Kansas Gov Proc.pdf

On April 30th, the Heartland Regional Group along with the United States Association of Blind Athletes aims to increase active participation of blind runners and walkers for the Kansas City Trolly Run. This 4 mile course takes you through Kansas City along the trolly’s route, and is a very simple and mostly downhill route. The Trolly Run supports the Children’s Center for Visual Impairments in Kansas City, providing two thirds of their annual budget. Its our role as leaders in the world of blindness to ensure these children with a visual impairments possess the tools and resources to thrive in today’s world.
Participants state this is a very fast cause for runners, and we have had individual BVA members walk the route with no problems.

Finally, we simply need more active participation from our members. The Heartland Regional Group covers two states, with approximately 280 members. Yet we struggle to find individuals interested in any programs, teleconferences, or volunteering at local VA medical centers. This is concerning for the future of not only our organization, but for blind rehab services in the VA and our communities. There are numerous ways to become involved, like calling your peers to volunteering for leadership positions, but this is only possible if you show up..

Annual Meeting 2017 by Paul Mimms

The Heartland Regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association invites you, our fellow Veterans with visual impairments; your family and friends; and any VA staff to our annual convention. The Heartland Regional Group is the BVA’s only affiliate serving our fellow Veterans in Kansas and Missouri. Your participation will increase your knowledge about the BVA and VA services, our current objectives, and solicit your ideas for future programs. The Westgate Branson Woods and Resort agreed to host us this year. The convention starts on April 21st with opening ceremonies and educational sessions throughout the day. We will conclude on April 22nd, with a final business meeting and dinner. Here are the details:

  • Location
    • Westgate Branson Woods Resort
    • 2201 Roark Valley Road, Branson MO 65616
  • Dates
    • Travel into Branson on April 20th
    • Meetings from April 21st to 22nd
    • Depart on April 23rd

basic room rate is $63.00 plus tax per night. The basic accommodations include 2 beds, so rooms can be shared to lower the cost of this very affordable event. If you would like to see room layouts and additional pictures, please visit the Westgate Branson Woods Resort site by clicking here. Reservations may be made right now. Each Attendee may call the Reservation desk directly to make their reservations, 1(877)502-7058. Be sure to mention, when calling, the group code “14-576” to ensure you receive the discounted group rate. You will need your credit card to pay for the first night room charge plus tax . your card will not be charged until April 17. The group block will automatically drop March 10, 2017. Reservations made after that date may not get the event rate of $63.00 per night. You have until 72 hours before the beginning of the event to cancel your reservation. The room rate is available for three days prior to and three days after the dates of the event for anyone wishing to extend their stay.

Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, by Timothy Hornik

The testimony of Dr. David Shulkin should relax Veterans. His hearings and unanimous approval by the Senate transpired with little positive or negative excitement from anyone. In the short history of the new administration and 115th Congress, this is a sigh of relief. However, the lack of responsiveness may leave many not knowing much about our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. David Shulkin comes to the Secretary position after spending the last 18 months as the Under Secretary of Health for the VA. This experience enables him to start off with inside knowledge about the VA and its current beneficial programs and controversies. His years as a medical doctor, leadership roles in other healthcare settings, growing up in a military family, and practice experiences at VA medical centers outweigh the fact he never personally served in the military. The combination of these items affords him the knowledge to continue Secretary Robert McDonald’s initiatives, while establishing his own priorities.

The VA’s scandals allured Dr. Shulkin into the Undersecretary position. He stated in his Congressional testimony, “I view my service at V.A. as a duty to give back to the men and women who secured the uniquely American freedoms and opportunities we all enjoy,” due to the barriers to timely service Veterans face. This sense of both urgency and duty stems from his Grandfathers service in WWI, father’s service as a Psychiatrist and Captain, and his own residency experiences in a VA medical center.

Dr. Shulkin’s 18 months as President’s Obama’s appointee to the Undersecretary position enabled him to understand, “it was years of ineffective systems and deficiencies in workplace culture,” that lead to many VA problems. Numerous VA employees from healthcare providers and counsellors to departmental chief echo similar comments. Additionally, break down in communications between the various VA layers restrict the flow of information and knowledge throughout the entire system.

Dr. Shulkin informed Congress it will require years to resolve the numerous concerns and barriers impacting VA’s service to Veterans, so his first act increased urgent care clinics and same day appointments for those in crisis. Just like anyone us, us Veterans sometimes just need these types of crisis based services to resolve many of our healthcare needs.

By attending many of the Veteran Service Organization’s annual conventions and conducting town hall forums throughout the country, Dr. Shulkin obtained direct input from individuals to major stakeholders in the VA. He realized Veterans receive the VA as “one V.A., and not as three separate administrations.”

After all the VA consists of the Veterans Healthcare Administration (BHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration. Supporting the thousands of VA employees, Dr. Shulkin informed Congress, “that V.A. has many dedicated employees across the country, and our veterans tell us just that every day.” I completely agree with this statement.

Many of the frontline VA employees care deeply about Veterans services and will figure out workarounds when barriers exist. For example, Blind Rehab Services acknowledge the barriers Veterans with visual impairments face, and often become our advocates when requesting prosthetics. Many Social Workers in case management roles will synchronize appointments to reduce travel barriers and fight for us to receive appointments in specialty clinics. Primary care managers will take advantage of the Choice Program upon request and justification.

Dr. Shulkin’s most impressive statement pertained to VA reform. “It is unfortunate that a few employees who have deviated from the values we hold so dear, have been able to tarnish the reputation of so many who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have served, but there should be no doubt that if confirmed as secretary, I will seek major reform and transformation of V.A. There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the department of veteran affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

This answers many of the questions about Dr. Shulkin’s positions addressing VA issues. First, this statement coincides with legislative efforts over the last several years to eliminate loopholes used by VA employees facing putative actions. Secondly, he will continue efforts impacting Veterans’ abilities accessing everything from healthcare services to backlogs I benefits processes. Finally, Dr. Shulkin will not standby as legislators attempt to destroy the Department of Veterans Affairs by privatizing it. These stances mirrors the resolutions adopted by Veteran Service Organizations, like the Military Officers Association of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Veterans groups and Dr. Shulkin do not oppose the Choice plan, but we do oppose privatization. Dr. Shulkin seeks to “strengthen system within V.A that are essential for veteran well-being, and use services in the community that can serve veterans with better outcomes and value to the taxpayerk.” Dr. Shulkin cited about 5,000 Veterans solely rely on the Choice plan for all of their care, but the majority of the 31% of Veterans who use the Choice plan prefers a combination of both VA and private care. The VA remains the best provider for many specialty care services and therapeutic interventions predominately found in Veterans populations, like Post Traumatic Stress, Agent Orange and other environmental exposures, and many other conditions.

When addressing Veteran suicides, Dr. Shulkin stated, “we have made significant progress in suicide prevention, including hiring more mental health professionals, implementing a predictive tool to identify those at greatest risk and fixing the crisis line to better serve our veterans.” By impacting access to urgent care and mental health services, Dr. Shulkin suggestions mirrors findings from a national Veterans suicide study from 2016. The study reported failure to access VA services on a regular basis, along with age are key lethality factors. The predictive tool and increase in mental health providers aims to resolve these concerns.

Based on Dr. David Shulkin’s Congressional testimony and supportive actions, I feel he will continue to positively impact the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, I say this with some apprehension. Dr. Shulkin is one individual, and many systems impact the daily to longitudinal operations of the VA. We still will have employees enhancing and diminishing VA services. We will still have legislative priorities assisting and hindering VA progress. We still have a Veteran population steadily dwindling, removing the percentage of the public who directly and intimately knows a Veteran. Therefore it is our job as Veterans to make sure decision makers and stakeholders know our thoughts about the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need to speak up at civic events, writing editorials to news outlets, and contact the offices of our elected officials.

Establishing a Smart Home, by Paul Mimms

Blind veterans could find benefits in the use of an emerging category of systems that use voice commands to control one’s home.. The control is accomplished by wireless switches and plug receptacles that interface with devices like The three best-known systems at present: Alexa with Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, Google Now with Google Home and Siri with the Apple Home Kit with which one can use an iPhone and/or iPad for voice input portals.

This control is accomplished to a great extent using wireless switches and plug receptacles that interface with the voice input systems. By voice command one can turn lights off and on, dim and brighten lights throughout the house from wherever you are in the house. You can control lamps and plug-in appliances and even your coffee pot by voice. Imagine waking up and giving the command “turn on coffee pot.”

To take it a bit farther, these systems allow one to control not just lights, but also door locks, a garage door, a thermostat, ceiling fans, and other appliances in the home. Think of being able to close your drapes in the evening by voice command. .

. Such control can be an effective component of a home security system
The potential exists to use voice to activate and disarm your alarm system, as well as lock and unlock entry and garage doors

At the center of the system is a hub, which routes the commands to the correct device. All the component hardware is connected wirelessly to each other via wifi, bluetooth, or other wireless technology.

I have such a system in my home, and I use the Amazon Echo as my voice input portal. To expand my voice input coverage beyond a central point and room, I use Echo Dot to extend coverage. The Echo devices all work together without interference. Another option is to expand command input capability using remotes available to sync with any of the Echo family of devices.

My system started out with control of the front door lock, a couple of lights, activation of the alarm system, , and control of the garage door. I have added control of additional lights indoors, as well as outdoor lighting control, and control of motorized drapes and shades. I can turn on my entertainment system, including turning on TV, changing stations, and switching to Apple TV, all using voice.

Another feature of these systems is that of creating what are called scenes. for instance, my Good Night scene turns off all lights and TV, ceiling fan, goes through the sequences to lock the front door and garage door, and sets the alarm. I have set up other scenes to cover other events.

I did my system in stages, adding as I desired more features. Systems can vary, of course, depending on the range and scope of control desired, the number of control switches and outlets used, and the addition of wireless door lock systems which are becoming more numerous and less expensive.

Blind Rehab Centers are issuing iPhone, iPads, AppleTV, and Echo Dots to veterans, but not home automation accessories. At the present time such systems are not available using the Adapted Home Grant through VA. as electronics improve and expand their capabilities, well-written justifications may be accepted in the future. To find out more about devices or systems for home control, search on amazon.com, google.com, and apple.com to compare the features of the options. Accessories from other vendors are available at Home depot and Best buy, just to start.

Do not let a lack of understanding or familiarity keep you away from assistive technologies, by staying up to date with the 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 Blind Vet Tech teleconferences, and learn from your peers. Information on these teleconference may be found below.

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

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.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Fall 2016

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 our extremely busy fall season, consisting of our midyear meeting recap, experiences at the Kansas State Fair, letters of gratitude from participants of our fishing trip in partnership with KAMO Adventures, and our usual listing of peer support and VIST coordinators. 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. Speaking about adventures, we will be heading back to Branson in April 2017 for our annual meeting, hosting more fishing trips, visiting the Kansas State Capital in October, and looking to assemble blind Veteran teams to participate in competitive adaptive sports. This will only be possible with your continued support and willingness to challenge yourselves to do more with blindness.

In Memoriam, Chester Leidy, by Timothy Hornik

In September the Heartland Regional Group lost one of our dearest members, Chester “Chet” Leidy. Chet served as the Kansas Regional Group’s President and other officer positions for over a decade, establishing the core group of members around the Wichita VAMC. This enabled the Blinded Veterans Association to remain active and present throughout Kansas during a time period when the membership steadily declined for numerous reasons. It is because of Chet we have the Heartland Regional Group today, advocating for Veterans with visual impairments across Kansas and Missouri.

Chester Leidy served in the Army during World War II, with the 361 Regiment of the 91st Infantry Division. His unit participated in the battles for Rome and other actions in Italy. During these battles, Chet received the Purple Heart after being injured by enemy fire.

Chester’s experiences and acquired skills enabled him to achieve tremendous Personal, family, and professional accomplishments. These include a wonderful marriage of 72 years with Mary Jane, developing Leidy Plumbing and Heating Company, and co-founder of Plumbers Association of Central Kansas, and a member of the Coast Guard auxiliary.

The first time I met Chet, he described himself as a spry old man. This barely begins to touch upon the energies he threw into every project. Whether it was fishing throughout Kansas or on the Gulf Coast, leading the BVA’s regional group in Kansas, or even driving to visit Mary Jane while at a long-term care facility before she passed after he was declared legally blind due to Macular Degeneration, Chet fulfilled all promises and enriched the lives of everyone he touched. Chester’s presence will be severely missed by all of us.

The Heartland Midyear Meeting Summary, by Paul Mimms

Heartland Regional Group held its mid-year meeting in Wichita KS on October 14, 2016. The event was held at Envision, a center for vision rehabilitation in Wichita. Robert Hamilton, Wichita VAMC VIST; Dr. Donald Fletcher, Envision’s ophthalmologist; Sanford Alexander, Envision’s advocate; Maggie Witte, Kansas Library Services; Heather Hogan; Douglas Olender; and Paul Mimms attended the afternoon event. The event was one of Heartland’s efforts to ally with other resources to provide support for members. The highlights of the meeting were a report on VIST services by Robert Hamilton, an update on available programs from Kansas Library Services by Ms. Witte, and Dr. Fletcher’s presentation on vision research he conducts at Envision.

Representing the Heartland at the Kansas State Fair, by Gus Adams

For the second year in a row, Sandy and Gus Adams devised and executed the Heartland Regional Group’s outreach booth at the Kansas State Fair. The team started to prepare by soliciting funds from individual Kansans to corporate sponsors. Most notably, Reiser Fine Foods provided a bulk of the support for the Heartland’s booth.

Sandy and Gus arrived to the fair grounds on September 15th, and managed to assemble the booth prior to a downpour. They manned the booth each day from 0800 to 2000, along with Koi Law, of Hutchinson, and Bob Hamilton, the Wichita VIST coordinator. Many people stopped by to learn about the Blinded Veterans Association and VA visual impairment services, achieving our primary goal to increase the knowledge about blindness amongst Veterans. The team also handed out membership applications to many interested individuals.

We all owe Sandy and Gus Adams, Koi Law, and Bob Hamilton our sincere gratitude for representing all of us visually impaired and blinded Veterans in the Heartland. The booth was a huge success in getting our name out and letting people know that we exist. This is best summarized in Bob Hamilton’s response about his experiences:

“VIST attended the Blinded Veterans Association, Kansas State Fair last week. Though there for a short time, VIST was able to make important contact with veterans and organizations such as Lions Club Sight van. Gus Adams, his wife and other members did excellent job planning and displaying BVA/ VIST material, a true outreach! My compliments and thanks to that crew and BVA in general. Hopefully, VIST can be more active at the 2017 booth!”

The Heartland Regional Group will be executing precisely what Bob requests, increase in activity in 2017. However, it’s the intent to be more active throughout both Missouri and Kansas, so if you have an idea for an event, send us an email at paul8655@gmail.com.

Fishing with Blindness and KAMO Adventures, compiled by Timothy Hornik

September featured a first for the Heartland Regional Group, a fishing trip. Partnering with KAMO Adventures, Shelton Ponder, Doug Olender, and Koi Law joined three other Veterans with disabilities from September 22nd to 25, for a weekend of fishing, peer support, and all around fun. This trip was executed by Bill Eckert, KAMO Adventures, co-founder, and his willingness to assist the Heartland live our motto of blinded Veterans assisting our fellow peers. These next articles depict the empowering effect the trip had on each individual.

Fishing for Enjoyment and Catching an Awesome Trip, by Shelton Ponder

Since I am not a regular fisherman, I was completely engrossed with excitement as this trip unfolded. My enthusiasm was minute in comparison to meeting James Wilson, who is a fantastic individual and got the trip off to a great start. I did not feel one iota of apprehension once we made contact and during the entire trip, whether on the lake, or at the house. The detailed care and sincerity tendered by the staff and volunteers was unlike anything I have ever experienced, except for the Hines Blind Rehab Center.

The fishing was terrific. Our guide, who name is Les Jarman, added to the exuberance, from the first time we met until we said our good byes. Les made every moment on the lake just superb. I was fascinated by the beauty surrounding the lake as we approached the different locations where Les knew like the back of his hands.

I caught more fish in two days than the few times I have gone fishing. Each catch was heart throbbing in ecstasy since I never knew whether I had a trophy catch or one that had to be thrown back. Though there was some good size catches,
I never despaired when I did not land a big one. There was the next cast, and the rush was just as great.

People I became acquainted with were always enthusiastic as I was during the entire trip. We all experienced a shared closeness, whether we were seasoned or a novice. I gained a new perspective of realizing the preparation everyone took, thus freeing the Veterans to enjoy the marvelous event. Also, I am going to invest in some fishing equipment and go fishing in the area. You might say I am hooked.

Crappie Fishing, But Catching Bass and Fun, by Koi Law

Thursday night when we got there it was all about getting to know the veterans the staff and the sponsors. We had steaks potatoes and drink a lot. Also they let us know what to expect the next day and played some cards. It was just kind of a relaxing evening. Bill gave all the veterans camouflaged soft side coolers to keep that our drinks cold why we were out on the boat and fishing lures.

Friday morning we got up or part of us did early Doug and I were going to cook breakfast but there wasn’t enough room for both of us in the kitchen. So he cooked by himself. I was just up to keep him company. From there we headed out to the lake where they had five volunteers with boats waiting to take us out on the lake. I caught several fish. We finished until about 1 o’clock and then headed back to the farm. Where we sat and talk with the staff and drink some more. Later that evening
we had hamburgers, Brats, potato salad, salad, and chips it was just a great meal. Later on that night we played poker again. The staff but in for $20 and the veterans got to play for free. And then we all went to bed for an early morning wake up.

Saturday morning Doug and I got up and cooked breakfast. After that we headed out to the lake where we had the volunteers with the boats waiting for us again. We finished until about 2 o’clock. The people in our boat were fishing for Crappie but apparently I was fishing for bass because that what I was catching. Then we went back to the farm set and relaxed and had a LOT more beer. And later that evening we had a great spaghetti dinner. We played poker and some pool just had a great time hanging out with each other.

Sunday morning we got up cleaned up the rest of the house packed up and headed out on my way. It was a great weekend. And something I would love to do again.

Catching the Limit, Plus some, By Doug Olender

We ventured to the KAMO Adventures lodge on September 22nd, and were treated to a steak dinner and got to meet everyone.. Friday we had breakfast and then when fishing on Stockton Lake. Most of us caught Fish and returned to KAMO Adventure’s lodge, for some target practice, some poker, and time to talk. After breakfast on Saturday, we headed back to the lake, and in the evening resumed the fun. Prior to leaving, our guides asked if we might be interested in another day of fishing, which I graciously accepted. On Sunday while most people were waking up and preparing to return home, my guide and I reeled in a 24 inch 6.5 pound walleye.

I cannot thank KAMO Adventures enough for the stellar weekend. I had so much fun I have not slept this well in over 23 years. If you ever have the opportunity to join KAMO Adventures for any of their fishing or hunting trips, I recommend you stop and go.

Annual Meeting 2017 by Paul Mimms

It’s time to start planning for the Heartland’s annual meeting. Scheduled for April 20th to 23rd, we will be returning to the Westgate Branson Woods Resort, in Branson, Missouri. This decision stems from the overwhelming reports of excellence from both our members and invited guests. The basic room rate for a two bed room is $63.00 plus tax. You can examine this location by visiting, www.wgbransonwoods.com.

If you wish to attend but are concern with transportation arrangements, we are looking to arrange for car pools and arrange for buses. If you might be interested in these actions, contact Paul Mimms at paul8655@gmail.com as soon as possible.

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

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Did you know your iPhone can simplify dialing phone numbers which requires access codes or standardized prompts? For example, the number for your VIST coordinator requires you to dial the main number for the VA, then wait to press several other numbers to reach the VIST. Well, you can set up a contact for your VIST which will allow you to just press that contact and all of the dialing is automatic. This works by adding commas or semicolons to the phone number, like (866) 555-555,,,1,2,3. Here are the steps to do this on your iOS device:

  • Open or create a contact where you are dialing a number requiring an access code or numerical prompt system.
  • Press the Edit button in the upper right corner of the screen.
    Double tap on the field where you insert the phone number.
  • After typing in the phone number, determine if you need to insert a pause (aka comma) or a wait (semicolon).
  • Press the shift button, visually it contains a few symbols like plus and number sign.
  • Find the pause (aka comma) where the 4 button previously was located.
  • Find the wait (aka semicolon) where the 6 button previously was located.
  • Note: The pause will insert a brief pause into the dialing sequence so multiple commas may be required. The wait inserts a break in the dialing, so you will have to press a button in the in call options screen to continue entering the numerical sequence.

    For more about tech or how to get more out of your devices, join me on Blind Vet Tech teleconferences, search for Blind Vet Tech in your Podcast searcher, or visit:
    http://blindnotalone.com/category/blind-vet-tech/

    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.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Summer 2016

President’s Message, by Douglas Olender

Thank you everyone who attended the annual meeting in Branson and help make our meeting such an outstanding event. From our membership, Paul Mimms conducted the majority of the planning and execution of the event, Mark and Barb Wilson for spearheading sighted guide assistance, and Sandy and Gus Adams for crafting most of the door prizes and gift bags. Thank you to Dr. Law and the VIST Coordinators who learned and shared their experiences alongside ours, the guest speakers and vendors, and David Fox and Ed Echroft for their willingness to join us and aid in promoting the BVA.I consider this year’s annual meeting an resounding success due to the contributions from everyone, the active membership who attended, and the destination location of Branson providing attendees time to go beyond business meetings and enjoy each other’s company. While this newsletter contains a full summary of the meeting, here is a quick summary. Howard Adams, Paul Mimms, and myself were reelected to our respective positions of Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer, and President. The membership voted to host the annual meeting in Branson next year, regardless of any registration fee.

Life at the Waco VA Blind Rehab Center, by George Stroble

As winter started to fold into spring, I possessed the opportunity to attend the Waco Blind Rehab Center. For those living in the Heartland, the Waco BRC offers the same experiences as the Hines BRC, but in a smaller setting nested in central Texas. Overall, the experience was very pleasant with helpful staff. For Example, the Recreation Therapist took us to many interesting  places, museums, historical  sites, and other points of interest.

The purpose for attending Waco involves training on a Apple iMac, which consists of a single large screen with all of the computer components housed inside. Additionally, I received a Brother all-in-one office printer and scanner. Coming from the Windows world with ZoomText, the iMac provided a challenge for me but nicely meets my needs for a computer with built in accessibility options and keyboard navigation. The keyboard and trackpad utilizes many of the same gestures and key combinations I currently use with my iPhone, easing the transition. Though my instructor just started teaching Apple computers, the overall program was worth it.

Annual Meeting Summary, by Paul Mimms

the annual meeting of the Heartland regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association was convened at the Westgate Branson in the Woods Resort. This was the first annual meeting of the Heartland Regional Group set as a convention with business meetings, guest speakers and vendors, and hosted in a destination location.

Our President, Douglas Olender, called the meeting to order at 8:30 am on April 15, 2016. The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 913 presented and posted the colors. Following the pledge of allegiance, the resort’s management welcomed us and made us feel at home. The opening ceremonies concluded with the introduction of the six VIST coordinators , who conducted their own training alongside ours.

The morning part of the meeting featured presentations including the keynote by Dr. Candice Law, Chief of Optometry at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. Other presenters included Randy Custer from Missouri Rehab Services for the Blind, Sanford Alexander From Envision, Abby Rimel from Missouri’s Worffner Talking Library, and Brooke Lewis from Centers for Independent Living.

At 1400, Doug called to order the business meeting of the Heartland Regional Group. Members present were James Cohen, Howard Adams, Douglas Olender, Victor Press, Randy Talleur, Mark Wilson, and Paul Mimms. Guests attending but not members of Heartland RG included David Fox, District 2 Director, and Edward Echroft, BVA Field Service Director.

The minutes of the previous year annual meeting were approved as published. The Treasurer’s report covered from January 2015 to May 2016, and started with a balance of $4,891.63 in the Missouri Regional Group’s account and $5,969.46 in the Kansas Regional Group account. After Receiving the appropriations from BVA National, expenditures, and the merger of both accounts into the Heartland Regional bank account, we have an ending balance of $11,579.57.
Continuing the business meeting on Saturday, Edward Echroft of the BVA Field Service office provided a presentation on claims, benefits, and eligibility. Retired VIST Coordinator Gus McClelland was presented a plaque for his service to blind veterans.

Concluding the business meetings, the election of officers and delegates to the National Convention transpired. As no members outside the existing elected officers were nominated, the incumbent officers were re-elected by Acclamation. Mark Wilson was elected to be Heartland’s delegate to the 71st BVA National Convention. Paul Mimms was elected as Alternate delegate. Following a motion by Paul Mimms, and several seconds, the body assembled voted to provide $500 to support the delegate. Paul Mimms moved to return to the resort for the 2017 Heartland annual meeting. After second by Victor Press, motion passed.

Teleconferencing Services

Peer support is one of the greatest methods one learns to contend and overcome a disability. Unfortunately blindness restricts our ability to engage with our peers due to travel barriers. Below you will find a variety of teleconferences to participate. Each enables you to directly interact and learn from other blinded Veterans about topics like blindness information, what is happening in the area, using a guide dog, and technology. We encourage you to review the list and consider participating when available.

General Teleconferences

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.

Technology Specific Teleconferences

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Blind Vet Tech MacOS Monthly Talk

  • When: Starting in September second Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference will provide demonstrations and open discussions for using the MacOS with Voice Over and Zoom assistive technologies. Each month starts with a demonstration on a particular feature, app, or tool. This is followed by an open discussion and answer section. It is open to everyone interested in learning how to use a MacBook, iMac, or other computer with MacOS.

Hines Blind Center Alumni GPS and iOS Talk

  • When: first Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1000 or 10:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125
  • Note: This teleconference is based out of the Hines Blind Rehab Center and moderated by alumni. It focuses on GPS, mobile devices, and smart phones. It is open to everyone.

Hines Blind Center Alumni Windows Computers Talk

  • When: first Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1000 or 10:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125
  • Note: This teleconference is based out of the Hines Blind Rehab Center and moderated by alumni. It focuses on Windows computers, ZoomText, and JAWS. It is open to everyone.

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is how we as blind individuals take the printed text and turn it into an accessible format to read. While OCR has been around since the 1970’s, recent advances shrunk large machines into standalone devices for your desk, apps for your iPhone or Android smart phone, and a pair of glasses.

Leading the portable stand-alone solutions, the Optelec Clear Reader and Freedom Scientific Eye-Pal are standalone devices fitting nicely on your desk’s corner. You just need to place a newspaper or book under the camera, push a button, and in a couple of seconds a synthesized voice will begin reading the materials back.

If you are looking for a pocket sized OCR solution, your iPhone, iPad, and Android smart phones possess a plethora of possibilities. The KNFB Reader and Prizmo are the best options currently available. The benefit stems from the quality of cameras on even the cheapest smart phones surpassing other options mentioned in this article. The only downside involves actually capturing the image. You will need a steady hand or guide to increase accuracy. Once processing finishes, just use Voice Over or Talk Back to read the results.

New to the VA’s Blind Rehab Services, the Orcam takes the power of a standalone OCR solution and packages it into a wearable device. The Orcam consists of a camera sitting on the right arm of a set of glasses connected to the unit on your belt. Pushing a button or pointing at an object will start the OCR’ing process, facial recognition, or object identification.

should you require an OCR solution, contact your Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator and request to be trained on a OCR device. No longer will you need to wait for the NLS BARD to release a title or rely on sighted assistance to read a menu.

For more about tech or how to get more out of your devices, join me on Blind Vet Tech teleconferences, search for Blind Vet Tech in your Podcast searcher, or visit:
http://blindnotalone.com/category/blind-vet-tech/

Heartland Regional Group and KAMO Adventures September Fishing Trip, by Timothy Hornik

In an effort to promote the wellbeing of blinded Veterans through outdoor and recreational activities, we have partnered with KAMO Adventures to allow six Heartland Regional Group members to participate in a weekend fishing trip. KAMOAdventures is a Kansas City based non-profit creating outdoor recreational programs, scholarships, and employment services for disable Veterans. As a 100% volunteer organization, they are committed to ensuring us Veterans possess the opportunities to succeed.

The fishing trip will start on Thursday, September 22nd and conclude on Sunday September 25th. KAMO Adventures possess a lodge around El Dorado, Missouri, and guides will take the six participants onto Stockton Lake. All equipment, lodging, and food will be provided by KAMO Adventures, but interested individuals will need to be able to use stairs, climb in and out of fishing boats, live in the Kansas City region, and no caregivers or dependents are allowed.

If you are interested in this trip, please email Timothy Hornik at info@blindnotalone.com or call me at (785)409-1838.

Final Note, By Timothy Hornik

Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

  • (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.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Winter 2016

President’s Message, by Douglas Olender

I would like to invite all members of the BVA’s Heartland Regional Group and your families to join us from April 14th to 17th for our annual meeting in Branson, MO. We will be reviewing the status of the Heartland Regional Group, electing our officers and delegation to the National Convention, and enjoying learning about various items related to visual impairments from guest speakers. We secured an excellent room rate and more information may be found in the annual meeting’s announcement section. We also have started a monthly support group teleconference slated for the second Tuesday at 1100 of each month. Simply dial into our teleconference line at (866) 820-9940 to participate. More information may be found in the Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services section.
Over the Christmas Holiday, I had the pleasure to attend the Hines Blind Rehab Center for a little refresher. Lasting 12 days, it was a great visit because I went there on the 20th of Dec, which was a great time to go because they were not a lot of people and that left the instructors more time to spend with you. I received some excellent training on the Macbook Pro and the iPhone 6S. The instructor’s knowledge of windows and Mac proved beneficial, assisting me to convert a file so we can now print or own labels. The instructor also enhanced my proficiency with the iPhone, especially with the contacts, calendar, Siri, and other features and apps. Even though some items were not on hand, I still received the training on them and received them upon returning home. In 12 days I accomplished more than I had in the last year.
Life at the Edward J. Hines Jr VA Blind Rehab Center, by Gus Adams

This was my second tour for four weeks at the Hines VA for The Visually Impaired. The training is above reproach and you will always use the lessons taught to you, whether it is the cane training or the belt you have to put together. (Everyone that has already been to Hines knows what I’m talking about). The Hine VA gave me a feeling of being worth more than I am. The instructors know more than what they receive credit for. With the Hospitalized Vets only four blocks away you can get your leather projects for free. I put together wallets, checkbook covers and other leather projects.

Annual Meeting Announcement, by Paul Mimms

The Heartland Regional Group invites you to attend our annual meeting from April 14 to 17th at the Westgate Branson Woods Resort, 2201 Roark Valley Road, Branson MO 65616. basic room rate is $59.00 plus tax per night. Each room consists of two beds, so rooms can be shared to lower the cost of this very affordable event. Pictures and additional information on the rooms might be found at:
www.wgbransonwoods.com
If you are interested in attending the annual meeting and staying for the entire event, you must make your own reservations by calling, 1(877)502-7058, and mentioning the group code, “14-576.”. The agenda for the event is as follows:

  • April 14
  • 3:00 pm Reception
  • 7:00 pm hospitality room
  • April 15
  • 8:30 Opening Ceremonies (presentation of colors, pledge, etc.)
  • 9:00 Speaker Candice Law, kC VA Optometry
  • 10:00 MO Rehab Services, Envision
  • 11:00 Wolffner Library
  • 12:00 Lunch
  • 1:00 Centers for Independent Living
  • 2:00 BVA Field Service Office
  • 2:00 Opening business meeting (nominations, bylaw update, legislative update, etc.)
  • 7:00 Hospitality room
  • April 16
  • 9:00 Tech updates
  • 10:30 Closing business meeting
  • 6:00 Banquet followed by hospitality room

More information will be provided in future newsletters and in the official announcement. Contact Paul Mimms at 816 266-1773 or paul8655@gmail.com if you have questions or comments.

Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services, by Timothy Hornik

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans with or are interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.>

We are pleased to offer our first method to reach us by phone. Howard Adams. has agreed to field any calls individuals might have about the Heartland Regional Group. You can reach him at the below number, which is also located on the bottom of each page:

  • (913) 730-0404

We truly hope each of you take advantage of these numerous ways to connect with your fellow blinded Veterans.

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Many of us received the NLS BARD digital talking books player to enjoy the practically endless listening enjoyment of audio books. This device is free from the Library of Congress and requires little to find yourself mastering the machine. However, do you know about the Humanware Victor Reader Stream or the Hims Blaze ET? Both the Victor Reader Stream and Blaze ET allows you to download NLS BARD books straight from their servers and onto these devices, removing the need to download or wait for the mail to delivery your next books.
Even better, both The Victor Reader and Blaze ET fits into your pocket, possesses a 12-hour removable battery, and acts as a digital recorder with the push of a button. Choosing between the two depends on your needs from such a device. The Victor Reader offers a very clean and easy to navigate user interface with crystal clear voices. Its integration with popular podcast and internet radio catchers places a multitude of content at your fingertips. Differently, the Blaze ET offers a built-in camera with LED to scan documents and listen to them, color recognizer, and a FM tuner. If you are interested in learning more about these devices, contact your VIST for more information, as Blind Rehab Services have issued both.
For more about blind tech, join my team during our monthly Blind Vet Tech teleconference. If you like podcasts, subscribe to our Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast by searching for us in your favorite podcast catcher. Finally, you can review our posts at:
http://blindnotalone.com/category/blind-vet-tech/

How the BVA Created the VIST Program, by George Stocking

Editor’s Note: the below sections come from George Stocking of the Florida Regional Group with his permission to reprint the articles. These provide an excellent summary of the BVA’s efforts to create the VIST program.

Most of us take the services and benefits for granted and are not aware of all of the work which went into bringing us these services and benefits.  Your editor was one of the 11 Blinded Veterans who took part in the pilot project which ultimately led to the establishment of the Visual Impairment Service Program.  The following relates that VIST Program History.  Most Blinded Veterans (BV’s) have had contact with their Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Coordinator for assistance with benefits, rehabilitation training, prosthetics and sensory aids, and independent living.  We often take this assistance for granted.  However, few BV’s are aware of how the VIST Program got started and how it has evolved.  In this article your editor will attempt to describe what led up to the VIST Program, how it started and the tremendous changes it has experienced over the last 48 years.  To lay a foundation, it is necessary to return to the beginning of the BVA in 1945.  Near the end of World War II, when BV’s began to return from overseas, Army and Air Force BV’s were sent to Valley Forge Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and Dibble AGH in California and Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard BV’s were sent to the Philadelphia Navy Hospital.  It was at Valley Forge that Dick Hoover initiated the long cane technique of mobility.  It was also at Valley Forge that the total approach to rehabilitation was implemented.  Shortly thereafter, this process was implemented at Dibble AGH and the Philadelphia Navy Hospital.  The first step was to help the BV to get his head on straight and acquire skills to make him as independent as possible.  When BV’s were transferred to Avon Army Convalescent Hospital in Connecticut, BV’s were assisted in planning vocational training and for employment in addition to further personal adjustment training.  At that time, the VA had no specialized rehabilitation training for BV’s and did not plan to establish such programs.  It had no Blind Rehab Centers, VIST, or BROS and few prosthetics and sensory aids.  Consequently, BV’s at Avon started the BVA to advocate for services and benefits for Blinded Veterans.  Through the BVA’s efforts, President Truman signed an Executive Order in 1947 requiring the VA to establish a Blind Rehab Service (BRS) and provide Blind Rehabilitation Training.  As a result, the first Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) was opened at Hines VA Hospital July 4, 1948.  The training started at Valley Forge, Dibble, Philadelphia, and Avon was refined and BV’s began receiving comprehensive rehabilitation training.  When BV’s completed their training at Hines and returned home, there were no VA Staff in the various VA facilities to assist in transferring the skills learned at Hines to the BV’s community.  Unfortunately, few staff at the many VA medical facilities were aware of the BRC at Hines and many BV’s dropped through the cracks.  Further, no one at the various VA medical facilities was assigned to learn about services for BV’s and provide counseling to BV’s at the local level.  The early leaders of the BVA worked with the VA BRS to inform BV’s of the training at Hines and other rehabilitation services.  In the early 1950, the BVA applied for grants to establish a Field Service Program (FSP) to have BV’s work with other BV’s to assist in their rehabilitation.  In 1954 the first BVA FSP was started and BV’s were placed geographically and employed to assist their fellow BV’s with information, assistance with benefits, and planning for employment.  This program provided invaluable assistance to BV’s and expanded the contact with VA medical facility staff, thus expanding their knowledge about Blind Rehab and the training at Hines.  Unfortunately, the grants which permitted the BVA to operate the first FSP ran out in the late 1950’s.  The resulting reduction in contacts with BV’s made apparent that something had to be done to improve this situation.
     In the early 1960’s, the BVA and BRS leaders began to work on a plan to educate VA medical facility staff regarding the needs of BV’s and of the rehabilitation services available to them.  At that time, they contacted the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to join in securing data to justify establishing a program in the various VA medical facilities to provide specialized services to BV’s.  Robbie Robinson, one of the early BVA FSP Representatives, was then employed as a Social Work Researcher for the AFB.  As a result, the BVA, VA, and AFB joined in a pilot research project to acquire this data.  While a BVA Field Rep, Robbie was located in Florida.  As a result, he was familiar with the VA staff and facilities at the VA Regional Office then located in the old Don Caesar Hotel in Pasa Grille.  In March 1963, 11 Florida BV’s were brought to that VARO and run through a full day of testing, medical exams, and counseling.  It was quite similar to the annual VIST review, with the exception of the younger ages of the participants, more emphasis was given to vocational training and job placement.  The results of this pilot project were used to initiate an expanded research program at 10 VA facilities around the US.  Ultimately 851 BV’s completed the research program.  In 1966, the BVA and BRS used this data to work with the VA Central Office to start the Visual Impairment Service Program.  Initially, both the BVA and BRS leaders wanted to name the program the Blinded Veteran Service program.  However, because many veterans, though legally blind, were reluctant to identify themselves as blind.  Consequently, Visual Impairment Service was selected as the name of the program.  In 1967, the VA Central Office approved the establishment of Visual Impairment Service Teams at 60 VA medical facilities around the US.  The VIS Team was composed of individuals from the various disciplines which were involved with the annual VIST Review.  The VIST Coordinator was the catalyst who made the program function.  Initially the VIST Coordinator was a part time Social Worker.  In those VA facilities where the VIST Coordinator was given plenty of time for work with BV’s, the program flourished.  However, there were too many stations where the VIST Coordinator was only given a few hours a week for Work with BV’s.  It became apparent that there needed to be full time VIST Coordinators at the VA facilities where there was a large population of BV’s.  In 1977, with the assistance of Russ Williams BRS Chief, the Florida Regional Group submitted a resolution to the BVA National Convention urging the VA to establish full time VIST Coordinators at all VA facilities with large numbers of BV’s in their area.  As a result, in 1978 the first full time Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established in Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Cleveland, Miami and New York City.  At those 6 VA facilities, there was a dramatic increase in the number of BV’s on the VIST roles and the service those BV’s received.  The BVA used that data to go to Congress and in 1981, 12 additional full times Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established.  In 1982, when the BVA Government Affairs Committee net with Dr. Jacoby, Deputy Chief Medical Director, emphasis was placed on the need for additional full time VIST Coordinators.  During that meeting, Dr. Jacoby agreed to establish 36 new full time VIST Coordinator positions over the next 3 years.  As it turned out, 4 positions were added in 1982, 12 in 1983, 12 in 1984 and the remaining 8 in 1986.  Since then, The BVA continued to work with Congress and the VA to establish additional full time VIST positions.  Since then, almost all of the VIST positions established around the US were a direct result of the efforts of the BVA.  Since the VIST Program was established in 1967, there are VIST Programs at 166 VA stations, with 138 full time and 28-part time VIST Coordinators in the US.  The BVA has worked with the Congress, VA Central office, and individual VA Medical Centers and Clinics to expand the VIST program.

Editor’s Note: Mirroring these past efforts, the Heartland Regional Group continuously advocates for our VIST coordinators. Over the last five years, we successfully reinstated the full-time VIST positions at the KC VAMC and Eastern Kansas VAMC. These facilities lost their VIST due to the VAMC’s Directors and staff desire to restructure programs. We strive to work closely with all of the Kansas and Missouri VIST, promoting a cohesive partnership.

Act Now and Join the BVA and Heartland Regional Group
Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

¥ (800) 669 7079
¥ http://bva.org/join.html

The Heartlander is edited by Timothy Hornik, LMSW, and Paul Mimms, MSW. For more information or for prior issues, visit www.BlindNotAlone.com. 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.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Fall 2015

The Unofficial 70th BVA National Convention Summary, Timothy Hornik

The BVA convention transpired without controversy. Voting was limited to the election of national officers, and delegating the location of the 71st National Convention to the Board of Directors. The BVA officers consist of:
BVA National President – Robert “Dale” Stamper
Dale Stamper was elected as President without competition.
BVA National Vice President – Joe Parker
Dr. Thomas Zampieri, former BVA Legislative Director and now District 6 Director) was nominated by Paul Mimms to challenge Joe Parker. Joe Parker was declared the winner when he obtained the vast majority of the votes.
BVA National Secretary – Paul Mimms
Paul Mimms received a challenge by Pete Davis for the position, which Paul won thanks to an overwhelming majority of the votes.
BVA National Treasurer – Joe McNeil
What started as a four-way battle ended with the unopposed appointment of Joe McNeil by the time voting commenced.
Regarding the District Directors, two elections were held over the summer, and one appointment occurred. Dennis O’Connell replaced David Pat Van Long within District 1; and David Fox replaced Freddie Edwards in District 2. Both elected not to run for election, and their years of leadership and excellent counsel will be sorely missed. This leaves our District Directors as:

  • Dennis O’Connell representing District 1 on the National Board
  • David Fox representing District 2 on the National Board
  • Pete Davis representing District 3 on the National board
  • Ray Hale representing District 4 on the National Board
  • Paul Kaminsky representing District 5 on the National Board
  • Dr. Thomas Zampieri representing District 6 on the National Board.

Experiencing Operation Peer Support, by Joe Bogart

My experience was quite fulfilling at the 70th National Convention. Whether visiting with old friends or meeting new ones, I was busy engaging with OIF and OEF veterans through the Operation Peer Support Committee while also working as a liaison between the BVA and the Blinded Veterans UK. These all led to numerous exchanges with blinded veterans of all ages and eras discussing what OPS does and answering “why” on countless occasions.
The biggest question was, “Why aren’t Operation Peer Support veterans participating in the main convention activities?” Simply answered, we are. Several OIF and OEF Veterans serve as delegates from regional and state groups, as the National Sergeant of Arms, as the former Director of Legislative Affairs or many were just quietly observing the discussions and voting. Operation Peer Support is a program to bring in the OIF and OEF veterans to BVA and integrate them into the full convention. When OPS started, a handful of newly blinded veterans had a couple hours of conversation and getting to know each other, then thrown into the main convention. The main convention where bylaws were debated, issues discussed and board of directors politicked for positions.
All of this was quite overwhelming to those that were still trying to grieve for our sudden loss of eyesight and try to learn how to operate in the world. So, after a few years of young veterans not returning to the convention, things changed. We began to work a more structured approach to Operation Peer Support. We are all blinded veterans, and we need to bring in and keep the younger veterans so one day they can assume the mantle of leading and governing the BVA. So a few of us more seasoned OIF/OEF veterans began mentoring and slowly integrating the newer OIF and OEF Blinded Veterans into the convention.
We began the integration by bringing them in a day or two early, and conducted some ice-breaking activities designed to get to know one another and show them what they can still do with limited or no eyesight. This is beneficial to those that avoided travel since becoming blind. Then, as the convention officially begins, we bring them to some of the meetings and afterwards discuss what went on and answer questions. This continues throughout the convention with the new blinded veterans beginning to show a keen interest in the more in depth workings of the organization. This is where we try to ensure they are introduced to their local delegates to put faces to names, so to speak.
By the end of this last convention, each and every new OIF and OEF blinded veteran was planning to engage across the BVA and attend next year’s convention if they could afford it.
During this recent convention, we strengthened our bond with our blinded allies by hosting the last group of Blinded Veterans U.K. attending our national convention. So, we wanted to show them all there is that makes the United States great. We took them to enjoy America’s Pastime with a Triple a Minor League Baseball game. Then to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, as well as the Kentucky Military History and Frazier Museums. There they learned about military history on our side of the pond while getting to correct some common mistakes regarding the United Kingdom vs England.
Not only did the British get out and about, but they actively engaged with other BVA members, speakers, and even found some new accommodations in the exhibition hall. This is where we were able to link up three Blinded Brits directly with doctors, therapists, and vendors. We also introduced the BVUK Activities Director Esther Freeman to several representatives of organizations that can improve communications, equipment and therapy techniques between the U.S. and the BVUK.
And finally, I was able to connect and converse with many other Blinded Veterans from across the country. I spent time talking with a 90-year-old World War II veteran from the North African and Sicilian campaigns, Korean War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans and those that lost their eyesight in peacetime. We exchanged a few stories, spoke of families, discussed how we were injured and of course discussed issues concerning all veterans. I found a new appreciation for my fellow Blinded Veterans as to how they embraced life and truly lived for many decades. And it reaffirmed my hope and resilience in going forward with my life and family as a Blinded Veteran.
These were some of my personal experiences at the 70th Blinded Veterans Association National Convention. I enjoyed each moment of it and look forward to the coming year working with my local group as well as next summer’s convention.

Inaugural Meeting of the Council of Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers, by Paul Mimms

The first meeting of a newly-created interest group, the Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers (CVGSDH), met at the 70th BVA convention in Louisville KY on August 20.  The group has a purpose of providing advocacy, support, information and education on issues relevant to the handling of guide and service dogs by blind veterans.
At the meeting, a compilation of documents was distributed to attendees.  The information included the new policy covering access on VA property for service animals, and new revisions contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 
Guest presenters included Joyce Edmondson from VA Prosthetics, Welles Jones and anne Mercer from Guide Dog Foundation/America’s Vet Dogs, and a demonstration of backpack usage.  Topics covered the VA health insurance program for certified guide and service dogs, and the progressing research into training of a certified PTSD dog.
Contact Paul Mimms at paul8655@gmail.com to be added to the mail list for the group.  Access the documents distributed at the meeting at:
www.CVGSDH.org

Annual Meeting Announcement, by Paul Mimms

The Heartland Regional group of Blinded Veterans Association will be holding its annual election and business meeting as a bi-state convention in April 2016.  Here is the preliminary information on the event
Location:  Westgate Branson Woods Resort, 2201 Roark Valley Road, Branson MO 65616
Dates: April 14 to 17, 2016
basic room rate is $59.00 plus tax per night. Each room consists of two beds, so rooms can be shared to lower the cost of this very affordable event. Pictures and additional information on the rooms might be found at:
www.wgbransonwoods.com
If you are interested in attending the annual meeting and staying for the entire event, you must make your own reservations by calling, 1(877)502-7058, and mentioning the group code, “14-576.”
Our tentative schedule consists of guest speakers discussing the BVA, VA services, and technology; formal banquet; and other events to engage each of us. More specific details will be announced in future newsletters.  Contact Paul Mimms at 816 266-1773 or paul8655@gmail.com if you have questions or comments.
I

Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services, by Timothy Hornik

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans with or are interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.>

We are pleased to offer our first method to reach us by phone. Howard Adams. has agreed to field any calls individuals might have about the Heartland Regional Group. You can reach him at the below number, which is also located on the bottom of each page:

  • (913) 730-0404

We truly hope each of you take advantage of these numerous ways to connect with your fellow blinded Veterans.

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Over the last two months Windows 10 and Apple’s iOS 9 surfaced. There is no simple answer to deciding whether to update or not. My best advice involves trusting your instincts and reading available materials on these subjects. However, some of the decisions do not reside with you. Windows 10 is only a viable option for those running the latest versions of their screen readers and magnifiers. Differently, iOS 9 is available on all iPhone 4S and newer and all iPads 2nd Generation and newer, with little risk in updating. Both of the updates offers some nice new features. Windows 10 received Cortana, a Digital Assent similar to Siri and a user experience similar to Windows 7. iOS 9 includes easier searching features and improvements to battery life and performance.
For additional information, please join me on Blind Vet Tech teleconferences mentioned earlier or visit:
http://blindnotalone.com/category/blind-vet-tech/ Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at:

  • (800) 669 7079
  • http://bva.org/join.html

Without your support of the Blinded Veterans Association here in the Heartland Regional Group or through national level activities, visually impaired Veterans will lose the only congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization advocating and assisting with claims upon our behalf.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Summer 2015

Editor’s Note: In an effort to digitize archived newsletters, I will be posting them, so do not feel shocked to see an outdated newsletter.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Americans with disabilities Act, by Timothy Hornik

July 26th, 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The landmark legislation firmly stated that discrimination based on disabilities will no longer be tolerated, establishing guidelines and regulations for an inclusive and accessible world. 

The passage and revisions to the ADA demonstrates the importance for civilians and Veterans groups to unite for a common cause. When originally proposed in the 1980’s, Senator Bob Dole, a combat disabled WWII Veteran, numerous paralyzed Vietnam Veterans, and Veteran Service Organizations advocated and educated Congress and the public on the importance for comprehensive disability rights. Continuing to carry the torch, Veteran Service Organizations, like Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, and the Blinded Veterans Association, unite their memberships to fight for equality for all persons with disabilities.

 

The multitude of disabled Veterans fuel these efforts, since our culture stipulates that I shall never leave a comrade behind. The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics states that in 2013 3,743,259 Veterans possessed a military service connected disability rating. These ratings include minor conditions like scars and joint stiffness to sensory impairments and traumatic brain injuries. Nearly 1/3 of these Veterans, 1,139,815 Veterans, received a VA disability rating of 70% or more, indicating a severe disability. 

For disabled Veterans, our benefits and entitlements from the Department of Veterans Affairs do not create accessible and inclusive environments, it’s the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those benefits and entitlements are just a piece of the transitioning puzzle. The ADA protects our ability to pursue our dreams, whether in higher education, employment, or simply engaging local goods and services.


Reflections from El Dorado Lake, by Sandy Adams

On July 17, 18, 19, 2015 Howard and I attended the Annual Veterans Family Reunion held at El Dorado Lake in Kansas.  Howard used this venue as a 3-day recruiting event and information booth for the BVA. 

What an amazing week-end it turned out to be.  I have never had the opportunity to be around veterans and their families in this sort of setting.  It truly felt like family…everyone was happy to be there and so happy to see their fellow comrades.  As we started to put up our gazebo/booth, within minutes there were at least 4 fellow veterans there to offer help.  It was like that all week-end.  Someone was always at the booth talking about their experiences or just chit chatting.  They truly seemed interested in what Howard had to say and vice versa.  Howard would start the conversation by telling them why he was there.  He handed out pamphlet after pamphlet with information on the BVA and giving the person some history on the BVA and told about his personal experiences with the BVA.  No one refused a pamphlet and they listened to his “spill” with interest.   I could see from setting in the background how proud Howard is to be a part of this organization and how happy it made him to be among fellow veterans.  Howard also recruited a new member that came to the event to specifically join the BVA and meet Howard. 

We are already making plans to attend this annual event next year.  I believe all veterans and their family would enjoy it. 


Kansas Legislative Update, by Timothy Hornik

Keeping track of state level legislation helps determine how Veteran friendly our states truly are. This perception stems from what bills our elected officials introduce and fight for at the local level. Keep in mind that we are impacted more with state level actions than flashy national orders and regulations. This year Kansans witness a political system struggling with many issues, but many of the Veterans bills have already been signed into law. Here is a brief list of these new statutes. 

SB 127 honors 2nd Lieutenant Justin L Sisson, who was killed in action in June 2013 in Afghanistan, by memorializing the portion of US Highway 69 between 135th Street and continues to 167th Street in Johnson County. Lieutenant Sisson died as the result of a suicide car bomber while with 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

 

A second roadway honorarium was granted through HB2103. Bridge number 14(030) in Clay county is designated the Vietnam Veterans Bridge in tribute to all our Vietnam Veterans, who after 50 years, we proudly welcome home. 

HB2006 provides free parking to all Veterans with a disabled Veteran license plate at any monitored public parking lot if parked in a disabled spot throughout Kansas.

 

SB12 establishes a Veterans court system throughout Kansas. If a Veteran commits a crime, but the judge or prosecution believes that the cause for the crime stems from a behavioral health condition, like PTSD or depression; poly-trauma; or traumatic brain injury from combat, Service Member or Veteran will receive an option to undergo therapeutic treatment, instead of incarceration, similar to Veteran courts in other states.

HB2154 aides Veterans seeking higher education and employment. It accomplishes this by granting private employers the right to create a Veterans hiring preference policy to stimulate Veteran employment, and providing in-state tuition for military and Veterans living in Kansas. 

The final bill of note is to demonstrate how the legislature takes an introduced bill, guts it, and inserts the text of an unrelated action. The bill retains the number and original name as introduced, confusing anyone looking just at the surface. H Sub 112 originally enabled Service Members and/or their Dependents with a professional licensure new guidelines to apply for reciprocity or other status to continue practicing. It was gutted and substituted with a bill impacting discretions against wildlife and parks. Please note that unlike the other bills discussed with the designation of HB or SB, this bill received the identifiers H Sub to indicate a substitution. It’s important to note this as you examine or listen to news about Congress, for this is a common ploy.

 


Annual Meeting Summary, by Paul Mimms

On May 14, 2015 at the Kansas City VAMC, the Heartland Regional Group conducted the annual meeting of the membership. All members in good standing received an announcement through the newsletter and a separate mailing prior to this date. Present for this was Doug Olender, the President; Paul Mimms, Secretary/Treasurer; Gus Adams, Timothy Hornik, Danny Wallace, and Mark Wilson. 

During this meeting, three main actions unfolded. First, uncontested election of Gus Adams as the Vice President filled the void left by Tim’s resignation. Gus, Mark, and Doug were selected to represent Heartland at the 70th Annual BVA National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Finally, Gus received approval to pursue actions in order to establish a BVA booth at the Kansas state fair. The Heartland Regional Group’s mid-year business meeting will be hosted in Kansas during the first half of October. More information will follow.

Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services, by Timothy Hornik

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans with or are interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.>

We are pleased to offer our first method to reach us by phone. Howard Adams. has agreed to field any calls individuals might have about the Heartland Regional Group. You can reach him at the below number, which is also located on the bottom of each page:

  • (913) 730-0404

We truly hope each of you take advantage of these numerous methods to reach out and engage with your fellow Blinded Veterans.

BVA Changes How to Access Field Services, by Timothy Hornik

Starting September 1st, the BVA’s Field Service program will operate through a dedicated toll-free hotline and closing its offices throughout the country. The Field Service Program offers Veterans information and assistance with VA benefits and disability claims, regardless if you are a member or not. The Field Service Program Resource Center will serve as a one stop shop, and will be located at:

 

  • 1 BVA Field Service Resource Center
  • 125 N. West St, 3rd Floor
  • Alexandria, VA 22314
  • Phone: 844-250-5180 (Toll Free)
  • Fax: 202-371-8258
  • Email: fieldservice@bva.org

In an effort to bridge the geographical divide, the BVA is seeking members interested in serving as Volunteer National Service Officers at their local VA Medical Centers. Training by the BVA will commence at the 2016 BVA National Convention, and interested parties must be willing to become accredited with BVA and dedicate 1000 hours annually to help veterans with claims.

Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

 

(800) 669 7079

http://bva.org/join.html

 

Without our membership, the BVA will not exist, and no one will advocate for us.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Spring 2015

Editor’s Note: In an effort to digitize archived newsletters, I will be posting them, so do not feel shocked to see an outdated newsletter.

VA Choice Card, by Timothy Hornik

Recently, many of you might have received a Veterans Choice Card. As part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2015. The Veterans Choice Card ensures Veterans possess the ability to receive healthcare services at the VA or through a partnering private provider. Accessing a private provider is restricted to those Veterans who either:

  • Live more than 40 miles from their nearest VA Medical Center,
  • Have been waiting for more than 30 days for a medical appointment or 120 days for a rehabilitation program,
  • Live in an area where you must take a boat or plane to a VA Medical Center, or
  • Live in an area where you encounter a geographical barrier to visit a VA Medical Center.

Easiest way to determine one’s eligibility stems from when they received the card. SO if you received the card in:

  • Early November 2014 are more than likely able to use the card immediately,
  • Late November 2014 most likely have been waiting more than 30 days for a VA medical appointment and have the right to use the card for said appointment with a local medical provider, or
  • Between December 2014 and February 2015 will possibly be eligible to use the card at some point in the future.

To determine your eligibility, ask a VA representative about the Veterans Choice Card, or to setup an appointment to use the Veterans Choice Card, contact a representative at (866) 606-8198.

Other eligibility requirements and notes to consider:

  • Not all providers and programs currently accept or possibly will accept the VA Choice Card
  • A VA doctor must validate the requested care
  • There may be co-pays or other monetary responsibilities Veterans must pay out of pocket
  • All Veterans who enrolled in the VA for medical care before August 2014 or any recently discharged combat Veterans will receive a Choice Card
  • The VA Choice Card cannot be used if MEDICARE or TRI-Care is being used as the primary insurance as per federal law.

For more information, visit the following links:

triwest.com/en/veteran-services/the-veterans-choice-card-benefit/frequently-asked-questions/

va.gov/opa/choiceact/

Mid-Year Business Meeting Summary, by Paul Mimms

The first mid-year meeting of the Heartland Regional Group was held on October 4, 2014, at Golden Corral in Topeka KS. Present were 5 members and 4 guests, where two members resided in Missouri, and three members resided in Kansas. The treasury is currently divided between two accounts from the merger of the Missouri and Kansas Regional Groups. Below are the current amounts the Heartland Regional Group possesses in each bank account:

  • $3283.63
  • $6,097.09
  • Total – $9370.72

The present members voted to transfer $5000.00 from the Kansas RG treasury immediately, and to transfer the remaining balance when the account for Kansas RG is closed out. As of this Newsletter, this action is still pending, due to travel barriers to Wichita by the signature card holders.

In order to conduct business, the assembled members unanimously agreed that the Executive Committee will hold regular monthly teleconference meetings on the third Thursday of each month at 1400. The phone number for this teleconference is (866) 820-9940, and will be open for public listening.
All present were in favor of investigating the possibility of hosting the BVA national Convention in the Kansas City area for 2016. This provides the Executive Committee the necessary authority to begin investigating and pursuing the bid for the 2016 National Convention with the BVA Convention Program Manager.
Applying the final touches to the merger between Kansas and Missouri BVA Regional Groups, Paul is compiling and submitting the necessary forms to establish the Heartland Regional Group as a 501 C3 Non-Profit corporation. This will provide us the ability to conduct fund raising endeavors that will be used for services and activities for Blinded Veterans here in Missouri and Kansas. The best part of this is that as we have no paid staff, or proceeds go straight towards supporting things like the regular business meetings, future fishing and other activities.

Annual Meeting Announcement, by Paul Mimms

With Spring in the air, it’s time for us to come together to conduct the annual business meeting of the Heartland Regional Group. At this meeting, we will be nominating our delegate to the 70th BVA National Convention set for Louisville, KY from August 17th to 21st. Additionally, we need to vote on a new Vice President, since Timothy Hornik had to step down due to scheduling conflicts. Our President, Doug, appointed Howard Adams of Lincoln KS, to fill this role until we have a final vote. Finally, this will be the time to bring forwards any new ideas to help reshape our Regional Group. The precise meeting details are:

  • When: May 14th
  • Time: 1100 to 1200
  • Location: Kansas City VA Medical center
  • Room: Hall of Heroes

Please note that lunch will be provided to BVA members and their guests, so we will be sending out another announcement with instructions on RSVP’ing.

Talk to Us: Our Teleconference and Phone Services, by Timothy Hornik

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans with or are interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.>

We are pleased to offer our first method to reach us by phone. Howard Adams. has agreed to field any calls individuals might have about the Heartland Regional Group. You can reach him at the below number, which is also located on the bottom of each page:

  • (913) 730-0404

We truly hope each of you take advantage of these numerous methods to reach out and engage with your fellow Blinded Veterans.

Membership Spotlight, by Paul Mimms and Timothy Hornik

This section will feature stories about our members from our members. Our hope is to bring each of us closer together. Please contact us if you wish to be featured here, or would like to nominate someone.

This issue features Edward Reyes, who Served in the US Navy from 1964 to 1968. He served aboard USS Floyd County LST. Following his discharge, Mr. Reyes worked in electronics and later HVAC until he sustained his visual impairment from optic atrophy in 1996.

Mr. Reyes joined the BVA following his blind rehabilitation at Hines BRC in 1997. Edward Reyes has been one of the mainstays of the Missouri Regional Group since joining, and during his span of membership, has served numerous terms as Missouri Regional Group President, vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

Mr. Reyes is an active volunteer at the Kansas City VAMC. He also stands ready to assist the Heartland Regional Group as notified.

Equipment Reviews, by Timothy Hornik

The advent of Apple’s iOS powered iPhone revolutionized how a blind person interacts with the world. Previously, a Blind Rehab Center provided a Veteran with a different device to read labels, scan and read print materials, use the telephone, answer emails, detect light, and figure out where to go through GPS. Now, all one needs to do is take their iPhone or iPad, and either use an app to accomplish these goals or ask the digital personal assistant, Siri, a question.

While this review will not go into detail how this is possible, I encourage each of you to visit the below links or call into the Blind Vet Tech teleconference on the third Thursday of each month at 1900 at (866(673-3353 to learn more. The below link will take you to guides developed by other Blinded Veterans on how to use various functions and apps on an iOS device:

www.BlindNotAlone.com/Resources/iOS

Community Resources: by Timothy Hornik

In each of our communities, we have many different organizations and events that provides information’s and programming for Veterans, disabilities, and other themes. In this issue, I will describe the Power Up Missouri Assistive Technology and Assistive Technologies for Kansans Conferences.

Both the Power Up and Assistive Technologies for Kansans brings together technology vendors, community resources, and individuals with disabilities to learn about new and upcoming assistive technologies that helps promote independence indoor place of residence, employment, or school. Devices ranges from simple items like canes and mobility devices to complex computer systems and mobile devices. The VA, through the VIST, Blind Rehab Center, or other programs, might be able to issue many of these items, if you can articulate your need. Based on this premise, we promote these events for you to learn just how different items might benefit your life.

Power Up Missouri Assistive Technology
¥ When: April 13 to 14
¥ Location: Holiday Inn Expo Center, Columbia, MO
¥ Website: http://at.mo.gov/power-up-conference/
¥ Point of Contact: (573) 445-2965

Assistive Technology for Kansans
¥ When: September TBD
¥ Location: TBD, Wichita, KS
¥ Website: http://atk.ku.edu/events

/

Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

 

(800) 669 7079

http://bva.org/join.html

 

Without our membership, the BVA will not exist, and no one will advocate for us.

The Heartlander Newsletter: Fall 2014

Editor’s Note: In an effort to digitize archived newsletters, I will be posting them, so do not feel shocked to see an outdated newsletter.

President’s Message, by Doug Olender

My goals as Heartland RG President are to:

  1. Visit Kansas and Missouri Area’s At least once a year.
  2. keep everyone informed.
  3. Communicate with the VIST’s to improve relationship with our Veterans.
  4. Establish a hot line to assist Veterans.
  5. Plan and organize events for Blinded Veterans.
  6. Work with Tim and Paul to accomplish things that benefits the Blinded Veterans.
  7. Involve the community in events and make them aware of how many blinded veterans are in their mist.
  8. Identify additional resources that benefits all visually impaired Veterans.

Call to Action, by Timothy Hornik

As your Vice President, it’s my intent to aid Doug and further the heartland Regional Group of the BVA. The below list represents those priorities we hope to accomplish as a regional group:

  1. Inform you the membership about changes and updates to the BVA and VA. We will accomplish this through monthly teleconferences, quarterly newsletters, bi-annual business meetings, and establishment of chapters.
  2. Serve as your voice to the BVA District Director, BVA headquarters, and our local Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.
  3. Encourage you all to volunteer with the VA or BVA. VA. Volunteering occurs in numerous capacities from talking with Veterans to helping hospital staff. BVA volunteering involves becoming chapter leaders or a volunteer claims officer.
  4. Increase active membership through activities and educating the public about being a visually impaired Veteran.
  5. Advocate for our rights and benefits at our VA’s, serve on the Volunteer Services Councils, and Establish the Heartland Regional Group within the minds of VAMC Directors.
  6. Devise other fundraising activities and priorities.

BVA National Convention Update, by Paul Mimms

The Blinded Veterans Association hosted its 69th National Convention in Sparks, NV. All three of our officers attended the majority of the various sessions, ensuring your voices impacted national events. Additionally, we each received valuable training to help lead us into the future. The following section describes that which transpired during the convention.
Election of National Officers: The incumbent officers were all elected to serve another 1-year term. They are Mark Cornell – President, Dale Stamper – Vice President, Joe Parker – Secretary, and Paul Mimms – Treasurer. It’s of note that over the next year, our District Director, Freddie Edwards’ position will be open for nominations and selection.

National By-Laws Amendments: The amendment enabling Veterans with Low Vision Acuities failed to pass. This is despite Doug and Timothy’s attempts to persuade the assembled body otherwise. Amendments to change the dues structure and/or eliminate annual memberships were also defeated. These include suggestions to provide free lifetime membership to those above a set age limit or a static amount for everyone to pay towards life membership.

Resolutions Passed: A resolution is the method for a member to direct the actions of the National headquarters staff or for the BVA to establish a policy on an issue. Resolutions submitted by Heartland members to establish and implement more accurate and inclusive diagnostic codes for diagnosis and determination of legal blindness, establish training protocols for adaptive devices, and to re-establish centralization of blind rehab services passed unanimously.

Kansas VIST Information: Blind Rehabilitation Services reported that Eastern Kansas VA Medical System has applied for a rural services grant which will fund expansion of the VIST programs at Leavenworth and Topeka VAMC’s.

Life Time Achievement Award: Paul Mimms, Secretary/Treasurer of Heartland RG and National BVA Board Treasurer, received the Major General Melvin J. Maas Award at the convention awards banquet. The Maas Award is a lifetime achievement award, and is the highest award given to a blind veteran. Paul is well desiring of this honor, through his many years as a stalwart advocate and example as a professional visually impaired Veteran.

Membership Spotlight, by Paul Mimms and Timothy Hornik

In this section, the Heartlander will feature stories and information about our members. Starting off this inaugural issue, we will feature the three individuals who comprise of the Executive Board of Directors.

President, Doug Olender,
Doug is a retired Army Chief Warrant Officer. He possesses an array of degrees and certifications in Business, and automotive repair. He served as an instructor at Central Texas College in Europe, Clover Park Technical College in Tacoma Washington, and numerous Soldiers over the course of his career. Before accepting his current position as President, he aided the Missouri Regional Group as their Secretary and Treasurer for many years.

Doug’s Army career span over 23 years. Enlisting in the Army around 1970, Doug rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class, in 1982, Started as a Private and worked his way through the ranks to Sergeant First Class and in 1982, he accepted an appointment to become a Warrant Officer, reaching CW3. His tours included Many parts of the US, Korea, Southwest Asia, and Europe. His distinctions include the Army-wide maintenance excellence award, Inspector General, volunteerism achievements, and numerous medals for service.

Doug is a native of New York. He and his wife have been married for over 40 years, with three sons and six grandchildren providing much enjoyment. Doug is a life member of the BVA and Warrant Officer association.

Vice President, Timothy Hornik
Tim is a medically retired Army officer. He received several degrees in the humanities and Social Work. He volunteers with his VIST at the Eastern Kansas VAMC, and on various other boards advocating for Veterans and disability rights.

Tim accepted his commission into the Army in 2002. Becoming blind as a result of combat actions, he remained on Active Duty for nearly 9 years.

Tim hails from Chicago, but lives in Lawrence with his wife and four-year-old daughter. He is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and The National Council on Independent Living, as well as the BVA and Military Officers Association of America.

Secretary and Treasurer, Paul Mimms
Paul is a Vietnam Veteran, having served in the Navy. He retired from the VA, after serving as a Vet Center counselor, VIST, and Blind Rehabilitation Center instructor. For the last year, he served on the National Board of Directors for the BVA, as well as President of the Missouri Regional Group.

While aboard the USS Luzerne County LST 902 in 1969, in the Mekong Delta, Paul sustained an eye¬¬ injury that left him blind in the left eye. His injury progressively deteriorated, forcing him to dramatically alter his life in in November 1984. Following completion of blind rehab training in 1986, he returned to college, earning a bachelors and Masters in Social Work.

Paul currently lives in Kansas City with his wife, with their three kids and grandchildren nearby. He is active in the Missouri Council of the Blind and local affiliates of the Missouri Council.  Besides being active in his church, he is the Veterans Service Officer at the American Legion Post 626, and volunteers at the Kansas City VAMC.

Equipment Reviews, by Timothy Hornik

Most likely many of you have heard about two products from Apple, the iPhone and the iPad. These two devices represent the leading edge in portable electronics. However, did you know that both of these also lead the way in assistive technology? I possess a little better than light perception in my remaining eye, but what if I told you I drafted these newsletters on an iPad? So these devices can be more than entertainment, but mobile business solutions.

The iPhone and iPad may serve you as a method for composing documents, sending emails, identifying barcodes, acting as a GPS, and much more. All of this in a device that either fits in your pocket or the size of a thin notebook. The VA can issue both the iPad or iPhone. The best to acquire one of these is through attendance of the CATS program at the KC VISP, Hines, or Waco BRC.

The below link will take you to a webpage containing documents and guides about various apps and guides available. Feel free to review these to garner a further understanding on how these items may benefit your life:

www.BlindNotAlone.com/Resources/iOS

Community Resources: by Timothy Hornik

In each of our communities, we have many different communities based entities that helps. In this issue, I will describe the Heartland Honor Flight and NLSTalking Books program.

The Heartland Honor Flight is an affiliate chapter of the national Honor Flight network. Their goal is to fly any World War II Veteran to the memorials in Washington DC. This occurs at no cost to the Veteran, and the Veteran can even take a family member. Recently, they opened eligibility to Korean and even some Vietnam Veterans. Any Veteran with a terminal condition automatically will be placed at the top of the list for the next flight. If this interests you, you can contact them at:

(816) 569-0266
www.heartlandHonorFlight.org

The National Library Service Talking Books program is a federally operated source of audio books. Often times, the first resource a Veteran receives is an application for entry. The Talking Books program allows one to choose from a plethora of audio books, magazines, and newspapers, at no cost. Additionally, one receives a digital player, earphones for hard of hearing folks, and the ability to request whatever they desire. Updating their service, Talking Books is now available for the iPhone and iPad, making search and reading even easier than before. For more information contact your VIST, or email the national service center at, NLSDownload@loc.gov.

Kansas Members may call (800) 362-0699 or email, KSLIB_talking_books@library.ks.gov, for more information.

Missouri members may call 800) 392-2614, or email, wolfner@sos.mo.gov, for more information.

Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the Director of Membership.
Alyson Alt
(202) 371-8880
Extension: 3315
http://bva.org/join.html

Without you as members, the BVA cannot fight to save these services.