|Photo of an American flag, rippling in the breeze|
Several veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have lost their sight and then become role models for others living with blindness will visit their counterparts in the United Kingdom May 22-28.
Project Gemini, an initiative of St Dunstan’s of London, England, and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), headquartered in Washington, DC, will take six American blinded veterans, four of them blinded in recent combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, across the Atlantic Ocean for six days of educational exchange and the sharing of friendship, knowledge, and insights with their British comrades.
Subjects of discussion will be rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive technology for the blind. The two groups will also tour the British Parliament and visit with American military staff and embassy personnel at the U.S Embassy in London.
They will share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of the adjustment processes. They will compare the British veterans’ health care system with that of the American system operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and its dozens of component medical centers, outpatient clinics, and veterans’ homes throughout the country.
Also part of the week’s scheduled events are recreational rehabilitation activities that will include kayaking, blind archery, and horseback riding.
Making the Transatlantic journey are Operation Iraqi Freedom blinded veterans Douglas Cereghin of Phoenix, Arizona; Jeffrey Mittman of New Palestine, Indiana; Andrew “A. J.” Tong of Snoqualmie, Washington; and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) blinded veteran Steven Beres, who is also BVA’s National Treasurer.
Other BVA officials joining the “St Dunstaners” are National President Dr. Roy Kekahuna, a Vietnam era veteran injured in combat, and Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri, who is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Major Derrick Johnson, Executive Officer of the Department of Defense Vision Center of Excellence, will also accompany the group and participate in its activities.
Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in Vietnam, Korea, or during World War II. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have lost their sight recently with examples of and opportunities to interact with men and women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness
In 2008, BVA sponsored the participation of three service members from across the ocean at its 63rd National Convention. Project Gemini returns the favor on British soil.
St Dunstan’s was founded in 1915 shortly before the outbreak of World War I. BVA traces its beginning to 1945 when a group of war-blinded servicemen met at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, on March 28 of that year.
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