Heather leading vet

Good Day All,

I just wanted to take a few moments to thank everyone, from TRR staff to all the volunteers and participants, whom assisted in making a difference in the lives of our veterans and their families during the BVA 64th National Convention. From the feedback I received from all our veterans, the activities were an overwhelming success.

Many of you only had limited or short contact with our Operation Peer Support (OPS) veterans during the activities, let me take a moment to give you a “behind the scenes” look at this group of heroes and their families.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have created the greatest number of troops coming back with blindness and visual impairments than any conflict since the civil war. This is due to the new generation of protective gear worn by our troops and the advances in medical care. Many would not have survived their injuries in previous conflicts. With this survival rate, many of our Wounded Warriors return home with life changing and devastating injuries that not only effect the veteran but the families as well. You observed our Wounded Warriors with injuries such as blindness, amputations, disfigurements, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and PTSD. Many of our veterans have multiple injuries that fall into these categories. Some of these are visible injuries and some are not so readily apparent. In each case, these injuries have a tremendous impact on the Wounded Warriors and their families.

I started with the OPS Program as a participant when the program was first created. I know the challenges that surviving combat and the effect traumatic injury and loss of vision has had on myself and on my family. Part of the many areas of the healing process is realizing that life is not over after injury and that one can still participate in many of the things that we enjoyed prior to our injuries, and even try out new adventures as well.

During the last week, I saw the beginnings of transformation, at different levels, in the newly blinded veterans who participated in this year’s convention and in the paddling and other activities. Some of them were able to get back in the water for the first time since being injured while for others, this was their first time kayaking, rafting, climbing, etc. In this group, there were veterans and family members that questioned their ability to participate and had some apprehension and, in some cases, fear of the unknown. With support from their fellow veterans and all of you, many of these fears were tamed and they jumped right in and began to get some of the feelings of independence they may have thought they lost. This was true not only for the newly blinded veteran but also for our 87 year old participating WWII veteran who had never rafted before but always wanted to.

Your volunteerism, professionalism, and motivation was outstanding and trust was quickly established with the group. This enabled our participants to get the most out of the activities and events. I, too, was absorbed by this feeling of inclusion. This resulted in a level of trust where I personally jumped, being totally blind, into a Class III rapids for a swim down river. By the way, this “highlight” was mentioned several times by participants as a favorite during the rafting trip.

In closing, you all made a tremendous difference in the lives of our veterans. I would like to thank you personally as well as on behalf of the Blinded Veterans Association for your support of our veterans and Operation Peer Support.

Warmest Regards,

Steve Beres

Operation Peer Support