US and South African blind veterans visit UK and share experiences
Blind military veterans from the US and South Africa have headed to Britain to join national sight loss charity Blind Veterans UK for an exchange week that began on Sunday.
Members of the US organisation the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) aree visiting Britain through an exchange programme between the Association and Blind Veterans UK called Project Gemini.
Now in its ninth year, Project Gemini enables Blind Veterans UK and the BVA to share experiences and knowledge about matters such as blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research and adaptive technology for the blind. This year, two blind veterans from the St. Dunstan’s Association for South African War-Blinded Veterans will also join the project.
The veterans will engage in adaptive technology activities and sports for the blind including a blind archery competition and go-karting. Other highlights will include a visit to the Houses of Parliament including sitting in the gallery for Prime Minister’s Question Time. The group will also visit the Historic Dockyard Portsmouth.
When visiting parliament, the blind veterans will also have the chance to speak to MPs about the decisions to reduce the number of ophthalmic surgeons on the battlefield. This follows a similar decision that has been made by the US military.
President of the BVA Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself, says: “This week is so important because by bringing together blinded veterans from different countries, we can learn lessons from each other’s healthcare systems and veterans’ services and influence changes that best support blind veterans in each nation.
“The goal is the achievement of better care for blinded veterans and their families, ensuring that they receive the highest quality of care and support they so richly deserve. As well as doing all we can to ensure that our serving troops are given the best possible protection.”
Blind veteran and President of Blind Veterans UK Colin Williamson, says: ““Blind Veterans UK is very proud to be welcoming comrades from around the world to the UK.
“This week will be fun but what it’s really about is ex-Service men and women from different countries coming together to share experiences and support each other.”
Project Gemini has won the International Award at the prestigious Soldiering On Awards in recognition of outstanding achievements and comradeship demonstrated internationally by those which have supported the British Armed Forces Community.
The visit has been made possible with the support of Project Gemini partner Revision Military who provide, amongst other things, ballistic eye shields for the military. Project Gemini has also been supported by British Airways and GTR.
BVA traces its earliest beginnings to March 28, 1945 when a group of war-blinded servicemen met at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut.