15 US combat-blinded service members injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Operation Desert Storm will join six British legally blind veterans at the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) 68th National Convention at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park in downtown Spokane, Washington August 20-23.
The list of attendees, which also includes a blinded veteran from the Republic of Georgia, will be honored as guests of BVA at its convention. The gathering of the veterans who have more recently lost their sight is made possible through an organizational program known as “Operation Peer Support.” The program began in early 2006 when generous corporations and individuals provided financial support to bring a small group of recently wounded personnel to BVA’s 61st convention in Buffalo, New York. The program has continued at subsequent meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Washington, DC; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Galveston, Texas.
According to Tom Zampieri, BVA’s Director of Government Relations, the chief aim of Operation Peer Support is for recently blinded veterans to meet and gain strength from many of BVA’s longtime members, the annual convention serving as a means by which such interaction begins to occur. “Our desire is that strong relationships might be established between the members of BVA blinded in previous conflicts and those who have recently had a similar experience,” he said. “Physical and emotional isolation is a huge issue for those who have recently lost their sight, and perhaps only those who have gone through the experience themselves can truly understand the great challenges they are facing.”
All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help others understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government, at the same time openly encouraging its constituents to participate in Department of Veterans Affairs’ blind rehabilitation programs.