NAEVR Participates in Project Gemini Exchange Program
For the first time since 2012, NAEVR participated in Project Gemini, a joint exchange program between Member organizaton Blinded Veterans Assocation (BVA) and its British counterpart, Blind Veterans United Kingdom (BVUK). NAEVR Director of Government Relations David Epstein joined six United States veterans—four of whom recently lost their sight due to combat trauma—in traveling to the UK for a week of activities with a group of blinded British and South African veterans.
The full group of 2015 Project Gemini participants—including United States, United Kingdom, and South African veterans-visiting Newhaven Fort
The objective of Project Gemini is to provide veterans who have recently lost their sight with opportunities to interact with other veterans who are leading productive lives despite their blindness. During the week, veterans discussed blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, adaptive technology for the blind, and vision research. Previous U.S. participants have subsequently become involved in BVA’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, focusing attention on the need to support trauma-related medical research programs, such as DOD’s VRP. Several also attended ARVO’s 2015 Annual Meeting in Denver and participated in the Veterans Vision and Traumatic Brain Injury session. NAEVR’s participation enables the Alliance to relate to Congress and their staff the veterans’ life experiences and their thoughts about the current state of medical treatment for traumatic eye injury and blindness and vision loss.
This year marks the centenary of BVUK, formerly known as St. Dunstan’s, which was founded during the World War I in response to the large numbers of British troops returning from the battlefields of France having lost their vision due to explosions or exposure to chemical weapons. Since BVUK is one of Queen Elizabeth’s preferred charities, a highlight of the week’s activities included a Royal Garden Party—held in honor of BVUK’s centenary—on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, which was hosted by the Queen’s daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex. That evening, the group had dinner at Wellington Barracks, the Headquarters for the various British Army Guard units that protect Buckingham Palace and other locations throughout London.
In late August, the British participants in this year’s program will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, where BVA is holding its annual convention.
As part of their bonding activities, the veterans competed in archery, cricket and bowling, and visited the Imperial War Museum in London to learn about World War I. Other excursions included visiting Hastings, site of the 1099 Battle of Hastings, exploring Newhaven Fort—a Victorian fortress at which a military museum demonstrates its role through two World Wars—and spending time touring the city of Brighton, home to BVUK.
During the week, multiple media outlets, including Forces TV (the service of the UK’s military) and ITV interviewed Project Gemini participants.
NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky participated in Project Gemini in 2012.
Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton facilities
From left: BVA President Mark Cornell, recent combat-injured veterans Adam Rowland, Jason Pepper, Chris Rader and Aaron Hale, and BVA Board member Tom Zampieri, Ph.D. at Dulles Airport as they prepare to board the flight to
Outside Buckingham Palace, from left: NAEVR’s David Epstein, Adam Rowland, Dr. Zampieri, Jason Pepper, Chris Rader, Mark Cornell, and Aaron Hale
After attending the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, the BVA group had dinner at nearby Wellington Barracks, which is the headquarters for the Guards units that protect sites in London. They were joined at the dinner by Brigadier General Dieter Bareihs, U.S. Air Force-in the center of the group-who is the Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London.
At an awards dinner celebrating Project Gemini and its participants, Mr. Epstein presented a plaque congratulating BVUK on its centenary to its Chairman, Timothy Davis, right, while Dr. Zampieri, left, looks on
BVA President Mark Cornell wakeboards at the Hove Lagoon watersports facility
With the help of a BVUK Recreation Specialist, left, veteran Adam Rowland tries his hand at archery