Reflecting Upon Dr. David Shulkin's Selection as Secretary of Veterans Affairs

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 fostered the belief “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.

 

All quotes used in this post come from Dr. Shulkin’s Congressional testimony.

Increasing Independence Through Voice Activated Home Automation

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.

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. Options from other vendors are available at Home depot and Best buy, just to start.

Tremendous Victory for Digital Accessibility Advocates

A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
Disability digital accessibility advocates rejoiced on January 18, 2017, when the US Access Board Updated rules for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. March 20, 2017 might be the effective date of the update, but compliance is delayed until January 18, 2018 for Section 508 and the Federal Communications Committee must first adopt the new Section 255 rules. The change advances accessibility of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) employed by federal and other agencies abiding by these acts. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act pertains to computers, telephonic communications methods, copier printers, websites, published software, kiosks, transaction devices, and any electronic documents. 255 of the Communications Act covers telephones, mobile and smart phones, routers, set-top boxes, computers with modems, Voice Over IP (VOIP) software, and the underlying software for these items.

The update’s chief results empower individuals with disabilities to access digital, electronic, and telecommunications services and programs under Section 508 and Section 255. This occurs through easier to understand accessibility standards crafted by industry leaders. The most important aspects include:

For Veterans with visual impairments, the accessibility of digital content and interfaces will increase within the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and Social Security. Most notably, the VA’s check-in kiosks lack sufficient accessibility options for low vision and blinded Veterans. The Section 508 Team at the VA diligently works to correct this problem; the new rules will decrease the chances for this to happen again. The WAI guidelines for web interfaces and media content will advance accessibility guidelines to usability requirements for individuals with disabilities, a chief complaint of many accessing VA websites to Social Security online forms. Finally, provisions acknowledge and usher guidelines for emerging technologies, like smart phones and mobile devices, by noting their roles in the lives of individuals with disabilities and focusing on the how we use these items in accessing digital materials. Section 4 of the overview contains a complete list of each change and outcomes.

The ICT refresh represents the first steps into a world consistent with universal design principals. While this we celebrate this long fought victory, we need to remain active in advocating for digital accessibility throughout our entire digital life. We still face an uphill climb ensuring those covered under Section 508 and Section 255 comply with these rules and guidelines. While we evaluate implementation of the ICT, we also need to continue to pressure the Depart of Justice to adopt similar requirements, like WAIG, for entities under Section 2 and Section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, like online stores to streaming media platforms.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

AI Square ZoomText and Window Eyes Users Be Warned

If you rely on AI Square’s ZoomText or Window Eyes to access your computer, you may face serious issues accessing your assistive technology. On January 16th, AI Squared issued an urgent warning for all of its users. The cause involves a compromised certificate which may prompt the Windows error message, “A referral was returned from the server,” to appear upon launching the affected AI Square products. This will happen to the below list of AI Square products if not updated prior to February 26, 2017:

  • ZoomText Magnifier – Build numbers 10.10.8 to 10.11.6
  • Window-Eyes v9.5 – Build numbers 9.5.1 and 9.5.3
  • ZoomText Magnifier/Reader v10.1 – Build numbers 10.10.8 to 10.11.6
  • ZoomText Fusion v10.1 – Build numbers 10.11.1 to 10.11.5
  • ZoomText Keyboard v4 – Build numbers 4.0.0 to 4.1.0

If you use any of these AI Square products, start checking for updates. You can find the update in the update wizard for your software or by visiting this link.

If you have any questions or require any assistance updating or confirming you may be impacted by this issue, contact the AI Square support team at:

  • (727) 803-8600, and select Option 2
  • support@aisquared.com

Support Blinded Veterans at the Heartland's Annual Convention

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.

Blinded Veterans Association Seeking Applicants for the 2017-2018 Academic Year Scholarships

Are you a Veteran with a visual impairment or the family member of a Veteran with visual impairment pursuing a college degree or post-secondary educational program? Well the Blinded Veterans Association annually offers seven scholarships ranging between $1,000 and $2,000. The BVA is a national non-profit organization concerned with the welfare of blinded veterans. Founded in 1945 by a group of veterans who were blinded in World War II, the BVA is chartered by the U. S. Congress and serves as the official representative of blinded veterans throughout the United States.

The BVA aims to award seven scholarships for the 2017-2018 Academic year. The Kathern F. Gruber scholarship program offers six $2,000 scholarships, while the Thomas H. Miller Scholarship Program provides one awardee a $1,000 scholarship. Basic Applicants must be a:

  • Dependent child, grandchild, or spouse of a Veteran with legal blindness
  • Veteran or Service Member of the US Armed Forces with legal blindness
  • Enrolled in an acceptable program for the 2017-2018 academic year
  • Enrolled as a full-time student
  • Legal blindness status may stem from natural causes, age related conditions, military service related, or other situation resulting in a Veteran or Service Member becoming legally blind.

    The scholarships are intended to be used to defray a student’s educational expenses, including tuition, books and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by the BVA directly to the educational institution.
    Applications for the scholarships may be obtained from our website: www.bva.org. Requests can also be made by email to: projectassistant@bva.org or by mailing your request to: Blinded Veterans Association, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.
    Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to the BVA by no later than Friday, April 21, 2017 to qualify for the 2017-2018 academic year scholarship program. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the Scholarship Committee’s review, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline WILL NOT be accepted. Incomplete applications will not be submitted to the scholarship committee. It is the responsibility of the applicant not BVA to ensure a complete application.
    Scholarships will be awarded on a “most-highly-qualified” basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions in the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word-essay on the applicant’s post-education, lifetime career goals and aspirations.
    Each scholarship is awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the number of scholarships a recipient may receive under each program will be limited to four (4).

    The majority of this post was copied from an email announcement by the Blinded Veterans Association.

    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.

    How to #CripTheVote and be a Voter with a Disability

    A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
    In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we discuss different options for voting with a disability and demonstrate how to use the Electoral Services and Software Express Vote. Your vote as a disabled voter counts the same as anyone else’s, but our fellow Americans with disabilities face voting participation barriers.

    The Department of Justice describes the numerous pieces of legislation and regulations protects and encourages our participation in the voting process. These safeguards includes:

    • Americans with Disabilities Act,, through Title II, mandates all aspects of voting, from registration to sights to casting ballots, is completely accessible for everyone.
    • Voting Rights Act of 1965 permits disabled individuals to select who might assist while voting, including site staff to family members.
    • Voting Accessibility for the elderly and handicapped Act of 1984 requires accessible voting locations or alternative arrangements be made available, like curb side.
    • National Voters Registration Act of 1993 requires public offices and state services serving largely individuals with disabilities a chance to register to vote.
    • Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires every voting site possess at least one accessible voting system.

    Click here to learn more about #CripTheVote and where the candidates stand on disability rights.

    Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on how to vote and #CriptTheVote.

    Blinded Veterans of the Heartland Mid Year Meeting Announcement

    We cordially invite all visually impaired Veterans in Kansas and Missouri interested in furthering the mission of the Heartland Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association to join us and Envision for the Heartland mid year meeting. Continuing our efforts to bring the Blinded Veterans Association to you, Envision in Wichita assembled a wonderful itinerary to demonstrate how blinded Veterans assist each other. The meeting will occur on the Envision campus, and lunch will be provided to all. The agenda includes:

    Friday, October 14

    • 10:00 to 10:15 – opening ceremonies
    • 10:15 to 11:15 – Low Vision Services, by Dr. Donald C. Fletcher MD of the EVRC Clinic
    • 11:15 to 12:00 – Wichita VAMC Visual Impairment Services Team Update, by Bob Hamilton of the Robert J. Dole VAMC
    • 12:15 to 1:30 – Box Lunch, provided by Envision for those who RSVP
    • 1:30 to 2:30 – Talking Books of Kansas Presentation, by Dana Carter of the NLS Talking Books Program for Kansas
    • 2:30 to 3:00 – open discussion
    • 3:00 to 4:00 – Heartland Regional Group business meeting and closing ceremonies

    The mid year will occur on the Envision campus in Wichita, Kansas. The address is:

    • Envision

    • 610 N. Main Street

      Wichita KS 67203

    • www.EnvisionUS.com

    RSVP Instructions

    We request you RSVP by October 10 if you wish to attend. To RSVP, contact the Heartland Regional Group’s Secretary, Paul, at (816) 266-1773 or

    The Heartland Regional Group extends our heartfelt salute to Envision and Sandy Alexander for pulling this meeting together and underwriting all expenses for the event. Only through these types of partnerships are we able to ensure all visually impaired and blinded Veterans in Kansas and Missouri possess the necessary information, resources, and services to obtain the highest quality of life.

    The 71st Blinded Veterans Association's National Convention Recap

    The 71st Blinded Veterans Association National Convention occurred from August 22 to 26 at the Hilton City Center Hotel in Milwaukee. The convention kicked off with the Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road (VIPER) Ride. John Carter, the Wisconsin Regional Group President organized the VIPER Ride with the goal of engaging convention participants, community supporters, and public awareness for blindness’ possibilities. This consisted of blinded veterans enjoying a 50-mile motorcycle ride, lunch, and, of course, the 50-mile return ride. All reviews consist of high praise and excitement for empowering them to experience the road, and plans will investigate continuing this program for future conventions.

    Tuesday featured the exhibition hall’s opening and training seminars for attendees. This year’s exhibit hall consisted of the most vendors in recent history. Prominent among the offerings were several companies with headgear that contained hardware and software to perform tasks like OCR, GPS, money Identification, and recognition of faces and objects.
    There were several education sessions that day. Included was a presentation on Medical Marijuana and its benefits. There was training for becoming a National Volunteer Service Officer (NVSO). Training sessions were held to assist Regional Group Presidents and Vice Presidents, and a separate session trained Secretaries and Treasurers in performing their duties within the regional group. There was also a legislative update and tips on how to impact legislation at local and national levels. Tuesday was capped off with the President’s reception.

    The opening ceremonies on Wednesday morning invigorated all those in attendance. Starting off the ceremony the Wisconsin National Guard posted our National colors. The Mayor of Milwaukee then welcomed the BVA to the city. Governor Scot Walker enthusiastically spoke to the membership and presented his Governor’s Proclamation announcing the day as BVA’s day. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald completed the opening ceremony with a keynote address, highlighting the changes in the VA and his goals for the future.

    Immediately following the opening ceremony, the opening business meetings set the tone for the rest of the week. This meeting included the financial report, presentation of the budget, and nominations for national office. No new nominees for any of the executive board positions were offered, so only the incumbents ran for their current seats.

    Later in the day the Resolutions and Bylaws committee met to form recommendations to the membership. Additional meetings discussed the possibility of investigating new and operations of current special interest groups. Some of the groups proposed include Blind Golfing, a new Women Veterans Concerns Working group, and Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers. The evening consisted of the Council of Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers annual meeting, which transpired both in-person and through a call teleconferencing platform, uniting those present with members who could not physically attend. Other evening events includes a Brewers baseball game and trip to the casinos.

    Thursday’s events started with a presentation by the Honorable Dr. David J. Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additional morning presentations consisted of vision research, consumer protection and the Sprint Vision Accessibility program. The Father Carroll Luncheon, officer candidate speeches, and district caucus meetings. rounded out the rest of Thursday’s schedule.

    The closing business meeting occurred on Friday. The by-law amendment proposing a pathway to a balance budget failed by an overwhelming majority, 79% to 21%. The second Bylaw amendment passed, which transfers the selection of the National Convention location from the assembled delegation at the National Convention to the BVA’s Convention Coordinator and Board of Directors. The belief is the change would allow more efficient and cost conducive planning process for the National Convention. The two next Bylaws were technical corrections to our existing Bylaws, and also passed with no opposition. The fifth Bylaw amendment passed without objections, changing the lifetime membership cost to a flat $20 for all applicants. However, the flat membership rate will only be in effect from September 1st, 2016 until August 1st, 2017. As no one was nominated for any Executive Board position, all incumbents were reappointed, and consist of:

    Robert Stamper, President
    Joe Parker, Vice President
    Paul Mimms, Secretary
    Joe McNeil, Treasurer

    The convention came to a festive close with the final banquet. The prestigious Major General Melvin J. Maas award was bestowed upon Wally Guerra of San Antonio. The selection for the next convention is unknown as of the drafting of this summary.