VA Caribbean Healthcare System
Blinded Veterans Receive Hurricane Relief Donation
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The VA Caribbean Healthcare System’s Blind Rehabilitation Service (VACHS BRS) received a donation of $57, 817.33 from Joseph Bogart, Executive Director for the Blinded Veterans Association while visiting VA Medical Center San Juan to discuss the current Regional Group issues since the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In previous conversations with Blinded Veterans here, they expressed how their greatest need was to get their homes fixed.
Since the hurricane, BVA Board of Directors voted to donate the remainder of the Hurricane and Disaster Relief Funds collected in the states to VACHS BRS and charged them also to train the blinded veterans to rehabilitate their homes and purchase adapted tools and equipment to enable them to do it.
Veterans with vision loss will be able to come to the Blind Rehab Center (BRC) and receive training with adapted tools and power tools, and then leave the BRC with the adaptive equipment that was purchased for them.
This new service for veterans in VACHS will not only benefit veterans whose homes were affected by hurricane Maria, but also benefit all veterans with vision loss in the future; the service will now be a permanent part of VA Medical Center in San Juan.
During the check presentation, Bogart, a recently retired U.S. Army Major and Blinded Veteran and new to the position of Executive Director, expressed his thoughts on how he came into the Blinded Veterans Association after serving in the Army.
“While neither of us were BVA members nor knew each other at the time, Ruben Sanchez, the current Secretary for the Puerto Rico BVA Regional Group was in Iraq with a battalion from Puerto Rico when I was wounded in 2006,” stated Bogart. “That’s when I became legally blind.”
“The shrapnel pierced the vehicle armor, got behind my eye protection and destroyed my right eye,” he said. “The force of the blast threw me into the equipment of my vehicle, which caused blunt trauma to the left side of my face and made my left eye legally blind. It left me with lots of stuff going on, like glaucoma, no lens, blind spots and permanently dilated, so I’m really sensitive to light.”
“During that year I spent at Walter Reed Healing, I became involved in the Blinded Veterans Association,” he added. “I went to my first ever convention in 2007 in New Mexico and discovered that there were a lot of other Veterans who were still going about their daily lives, doing great things, and that’s when I realized what I could still do.”
“I got a continuation on active duty from the Army and I deployed a second time to Iraq and stayed in for another 11 years,” he emphasized. “I was the first ever legally blind soldier to put boots back into the combat zone since the civil war.”
“I retired a few months ago, and during that time the position for the Executive Director for the Blinded Veterans Association came open and I was hired. It’s been almost 5 months and I’m loving it,” he highlighted. “I’m still with Veterans I’ve served with and no matter the branch of service we were in, we all sweat the same areas. I get to continue serving with my fellow men and women who wore the uniform, and it is such a rewarding experience to do that each day”
After his presentation, there was a lot of gratification and emotion in the air.
Dr. Mary Carmen Cruz, who received the check as the Acting Chief of Staff and on behalf of the VA Blind Rehabilitation Service was moved with joyful tears.
“It really touches me to serve our Veterans,” said Cruz. “From the perspective of their disability, they can use the funds to better their quality of life and that is amazing. But what really touches me is to have people very far away from us who are touched by the needs of someone here. Not everybody understands that.”
“It’s amazing to see that they’re aware and feel they want to make the difference in the life of other people,” she added.
After the exchange of thoughts, Bogart expressed the uniqueness of the BVA.
“I continue to support our Veterans and to me that’s a great way of life because we are a Veteran community who have issues like other Veterans have. But we have the blindness, and that makes us a unique organization. I’m serving our Veterans by lighting up their darkness and that is why I came to Puerto Rico.”