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Editor’s Note: In an effort to digitize archived newsletters, I will be posting them, so do not feel shocked to see an outdated newsletter.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

Welcome to the Heartland

Welcome to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Heartland Regional Group’s website. We are an organization comprised solely of visually impaired and blinded Veterans of the US Armed Services residing in Kansas and Missouri. We are the only membership organization in Kansas and Missouri comprised of Veterans with severe sight loss related to military service, genetic predisposition, or age related onset. This honor stems from our status as an affiliated regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association, the only congressionally chartered VSO serving Veterans with severe visual impairments.

We hope you keep checking back as we continue to grow our digital presence with upcoming events, -e-newsletters, news and information alerts, and other press releases about resources, services, programs, and how you can assist a blinded Veteran. In the meantime, visit Blind Not Alone, which is maintained by one of our members.

Recapping My First Year with a Guide Dog

A selfy of Black Jack,  a Black Lab, and the Author Timothy smiling.One year ago, an energetic young black Lab stormed into my life. Immediately upon entering my dorm room at the Guide Dog Foundation’s facility, Black Jack lunged towards me, bestowing puppy kisses and licks all over my face, arms, and hands. Since then, I cannot imagine my life without him guiding me through our daily exercising routes, chasing my daughter, attending classes, and traveling throughout the country. This post will share a few of the highlights from this adventure.

When America’s Vet Dogs received my application, they faced a challenge determining if I walk fast or slow. Determining the handler’s walking style plays a significant role in the matching process, along with individual personality. Something informed them to select Black Jack, whose pace exceeded most of the other dogs. You have to understand a video of me using a cane fails to show I am actually a fast walker, a lesson everyone learned the first time Black Jack and I walked through the park. We quickly found our rhythm, a glide that forced our trainer to begin trotting to a jog just to keep up. Seeing this, the photographer just opted to wait for us to come around for his picture.

Our walking pace represents one of the key reasons why I opted to ditch the white cane for a guide dog. While my Chris Park white canes Created a level of independent travel, the tradeoff stems from the cane technique. The cane’s design and implementation forces one to tap objects for navigational cues. Differently, a guide dog does all of this just like you do when walking with sight.

This takes us to the next highlight, walking and running for leisure. Whether black Jack and I venture forth on a simple 3-mile loop hike in the park, or jog down a familiar trail, I have not experienced this much fun exercising since losing my sight. We have marked out everything from a quick mile loop to a complex six-mile jaunt through neighborhoods. Instead of relying on a ride to visit friends or family, we prefer to walk across town, often arriving much faster than waiting for a cab, ride, or bus. Even better yet, Black Jack inspired me to pick up distance running. These are all things I skipped out on with the white cane due to frustrations with sidewalks, routes, and obstacles. If I had to guess, we logged over 1,000 miles together.

While mostly positive, we have had our share of downsides. Employing a guide dog requires one to learn how to properly implement its training to achieve ones independence. The Guide Dog Foundation immediately sent a trainer of my house for additional home lessons. The trainer corrected my actions and provided some additional tips and tricks for operating in my neighborhoods. After all, Kansas is slightly different than Long Island. I am now happy to announce we have been mostly problem free since then, minus approaching large banks of doors with undergraduate students buzzing in and out of and not paying attention to the adorable black guide dog attached to the middle-aged dude trying to grab a coffee from the KU Union.

Thank you America’s Vet Dogs and the Guide Dog Foundation for introducing Black Jack and I. Thank you to the trainers, Jodi and Maria, for teaching me how to properly handle Black Jack. Thank you to the wonderful family from Fort Bragg who raised black Jack as a puppy and taught him how to be a part of a family. Thank you Black Jack for your willingness to be my partner in guide wherever we go.

Blind Dreams

Wondering what a blind person dreams? This article nicely summarizes some of what we see in blind dreams. Yes, I was surprised to read a Business Weekly article that made sense, but let us cover a few points.

Yes I dream with high definition video. Granted the people are generally wearing clothes and are portrayed by people from my past whom I have stored their likeness. Its great to ask my wife what someone looks like after dreaming about them and imposing theier voices upon a supermodel’s body or a bully’s face, but this based on who the person reminds me of. same goes with backgrounds, like one from last night that took place in a friend’s yard in Texas, despite the dream occurring in Florida. But whom am I to complain to if the wrong actor or backdropped is used.

So what about dreams featuring new situations? well, Van Gough and Salvador Dali comes to mind. The imagery ranges from non-descriptive images to abstract concepts based on feelings and relationships. These are actually interesting to reflect upon given the complex nature of the dreams.

If you place stock in dream analysis, Yes this is possible, too. this occurs a little differently. First off, I do not predict the future with dreams, rather I just reflect upon possible emotional reactions the dreams are in response towards. For example, my separation from the military was preceded with dreams filled with chaos and separation from my family should I elect to stay in. The dreams provided enough visualization to recognize these signs, but not precisely in a clear picture. In other dreams with little imagery like a few colors, My take aways stems from emotions. Most notably are repeating nightmares filled with raw emotions of fear and loneliness cast upon a pure black backdrop.

So us blind folks do dream with a degree of visual stimuli. This might be like a retro movie to an abstract painting. Yes we see in our dreams and yes we can sense our feelings in our dreams. What is different is the precise visualizations in our dreams.