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Blinded veterans group celebrates milestone

The Blinded Veterans Association is getting ready to celebrate its 75th anniversary March 28. It was in 1945 when 78 World War II Army veterans, who had lost their sight in combat, gathered in an early morning meeting to organize at the Old Farms Convalescent Hospital or Army Blind School in Avon, Connecticut. And while it wasn’t a rivalry, at the time Navy sailors were singled out to be treated elsewhere.

According to writer Caroline Bradford, the hospital had been a preparatory school before its conversion for Army use. Its founder, Theodate Pope Riddle, was Connecticut’s first female architect and a friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For reasons both personal and patriotic, she closed the school from 1944-48 and offered the property to the U.S. government. Army members were sent to Avon after initial medical treatment and rehabilitation to master the skills needed for life without sight. The hospital developed a “studiedly unsentimental curriculum” for its trainees that included a three-phase program to develop daily routines, to learn preparatory skills like Braille and finally to provide complete vocational training.

What became the Blinded Veterans Association was chartered by Congress in 1958. Its services are available to all U.S. veterans who have become blind, or who have limited vision, acquired either during or after active duty.

In 2010, Congress enacted resolutions making March 28 of each year Blinded Veterans Day. The honor is in recognition of BVA’s efforts to promote the establishment and improvement of rehabilitation services and benefits for America’s blinded veterans.

Plans are now in the early stages to celebrate the anniversary this year locally and nationally. Commemorative activities and events are being developed with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs, medical center directors, blind rehabilitation service staff and related medical professionals who work with individuals who are visually impaired.

Free services offered by the nonprofit BVA are too numerous to mention here. Approximately 130,000 veterans in the U.S. are coping with blindness and vision loss. An estimated 6,000 veterans lose their sight each year due to accidents or age-related diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and glaucoma.

Locally, the organization works closely with the VA in North Las Vegas to provide health care and treatment to blinded veterans. Nevada is home to hundreds of blinded veterans, and a local chapter of the BVA is headquartered in Las Vegas.

New members, and volunteers who are blind or sighted are always welcome. Members of all military services join together to help those with limited sight. Local BVA Chaplain Jay McLeod encourages local residents to become involved.

To learn more about volunteering or to suggest events or to participate in the upcoming anniversary celebrations, contact longtime Blinded Veterans Association member Joe Tasby at jtasby@yahoo.com.

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.

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