“Thank everybody for coming to Galveston.”
Galveston Mayor Lewis Rosen extended a warm Texas greeting on a hot August day to the Blinded Veterans Association.
“And I personally want to thank everybody for their service and the sacrifices that they made for our wonderful country.”
Rosen was addressing a room of about 250 blind and visually impaired veterans. Each veteran with differing levels of vision loss caused by anything from traumatic brain injuries to IEDs; combat injuries or degenerative diseases.
Some veterans had service dogs, others carried only a white stick and some had neither, like Simon Brown, who had travelled all the way from England for the convention.
“My left eye’s gone completely it had to be removed and my right eye’s got 15% vision so I’ve got a full peripheral picture but it’s like looking through frosted glass.”
Brown was on a mission in Iraq in 2006 when he got shot through the cheek by a sniper. It collapsed his palate and damaged his vision. He woke up from a coma 17 days later back in the UK. Since then he’s been rebuilding his life.
“With the help of Blind Veterans UK, I learned how to use some fantastic equipment that can really improve my life. For all intents and purposes I shouldn’t be here, so I’ve gotta live everyday like I wanna carry on.”
It was Browns positive attitude that got him back on his feet working for Blind Veterans UK, helping other blinded veterans and young offenders in his hometown of Morley, West Yorkshire. That attitude and work was also the reason he was nominated to carry the Olympic torch this summer.
“And then carrying it on the day, you just can’t describe it and give it justice. It’s like carrying the Superbowl trophy through your hometown. It was just an amazing feeling.”
There are 50,000 blind and visually impaired veterans in the UK who are not getting help. It’s Brown’s job to change that by reaching out to them. In the U.S., that number is 168,000 with only 51,000 signed up to the VA. Harris County alone has nearly 600 visually impaired veterans.
Tom Zampieri is with the U.S. Blinded Veterans Association. He’s not quite sure why only a third of blinded veterans are asking the VA for assistance.
“People speculate that part of it is that a lot of those blind veterans lost vision due to age-related degenerative eye diseases. So they think they’re not eligible for care.”
But that’s not true says Zampieri any veteran with eye issues are eligible for VA benefits. He hopes that the Blinded Veterans Convention this week in Galveston will not only highlight blinded veterans issues, but also let other blinded veterans know there’s help for them and they’re not alone.
The convention runs until Thursday and click here for more information on blinded veterans.