Contributor Deborah Bloom – Former Hadley Student Assumes Next Mission: Heading Blinded Veterans Association – Part 2

Founded in 1945 by WWII veterans, the BVA was created to help blinded veterans become more independent, receive the requisite benefits and services to which they are entitled and to advocate for those benefits and services. Steve’s priority is to ensure that the mission on which the organization was founded is carried out. He would also like to see the BVA get more involved in education and employment issues, working with corporations and government so that blinded veterans have better access to information to compete with their sighted peers.
On Veterans Day, Steve will help The Hadley School for the Blind launch a new initiative aimed at supporting blinded veterans and their families and the unique challenges they face. For Steve, this initiative couldn’t come at a better time. “The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have caused the most vision loss among veterans of any previous United States conflict since the Civil War. An estimated 17 percent of all injuries incurred in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are vision-related.” In addition to vision loss that can be diagnosed directly due to penetrating eye injuries, many veterans experience traumatic head injuries that leave them functionally blind, because their brain can no longer process what they actually “see.” The impact of combat-related blindness has been reclassified by the Veterans Administration as “catastrophic” disability in similarity to other life-altering combat related injuries. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are an estimated 158,300 legally blind veterans and 700,000 veterans with low vision. In addition, approximately 7,000 veterans become newly blind or visually impaired each year from non-combat related causes.

With its expertise in providing distance education to people who are blind or visually impaired and their support networks in fully accessible formats, Steve notes that Hadley is in a unique position to serve this population. He says that many blinded veterans coming home from the frontlines have terrific leadership skills that Hadley, in particular, knows how to support. “Hadley offers an array of courses that focus on leadership and management skills and how to put them into practice in school, work and in daily life. It’s these types of courses from which all blinded veterans can benefit.” Steve also appreciates that Hadley courses are free, without time restrictions, and can be done at home. “That is important for veterans, who may have young children at home, whose spouses become caretakers and who may not be mentally or physically ready for rehab and to continue their education, which usually requires them being away from their families,” he notes.

So what’s his advice to young blinded veterans? “You have to be your own best advocate because no matter how much we try to change society, there is always going to be that stereotype of being blind or visually impaired.” Steve also says they need to be tenacious and not give up. “Let’s get real. There are going to be additional challenges in your life. But you cannot let them get you down. Just keep pushing forward. The sky’s the limit once you get the education, training and rehab you need.”

Steve has embodied his own advice. At age 46, he is married with four children, ranging in age from 3 to 21. He keeps himself active and loves the outdoors – kayaking, rafting, skiing, even throwing himself out of airplanes. He loves his country and is proud to be a veteran. “All Veterans are heroes, whether in peacetime or in war, whether they come back whole or injured. They are no different than anyone else. They have the same hopes and dreams as you and I. As I tell people whenever I can, I may have lost my sight, but I never lost my vision.”

Deborah Bloom is the vice president of Development and Communications for The Hadley School for the Blind based in Winnetka, Illinois (www.hadley.edu).

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