BVA Convention in DC

The Blinded Veterans Association 65th National Convention was held in Washington,DC August 22nd-28th.  We attended our second convention as members of Operation Peer Support.  OPS seeks to connect combat-blinded veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam with newly blinded veterans who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. On an ongoing basis, Operation Peer Support seeks to support blinded veterans and their families who are still struggling with the difficulties associated with loss of vision. (Paraphrased from website)

We have worked with the BVA this past year with Tom Zampieri and testimony on Capitol Hill in January, and by keeping in touch throughout the year. There is a lot of work that comes out of that small office! We are grateful for the work they do and the support they provide blinded veterans.

Sean and I had been looking forward to this trip since we left the convention in Portland last August.  We made great friends last summer and still keep in touch with many of them.  This year was similar as we had the opportunity to meet new people and make connections. Although many of our friends were not able to come to DC, we had a fabulous time with some new friends. 

In my opinion, the greatest benefit of attending the convention comes from the connections we make.  For a few days we are surrounded by people with similar stories and situations.  While each veteran’s story is unique, there is a commonality in these stories, a reminder that we are not alone, and often inspirational stories of hope and healing.  It’s comforting to talk to the caregivers, share our experiences and emotions, and offer each other support.  No one understands like someone who has been there.

This year I worked with Christina Hitchcock to develop an OPS Caregiver group.  The role of caregiver is challenging and frightening for all of us.  The shift at home can be daunting and exhausting, and without a support network we feel lost and alone.  We had a short meeting and were able to share our stories and discuss how we are dealing with the changes in our lives.  A profound discovery is that no matter the situation, injury, illness, age, we are all the same.  Everyone is struggling.  Everyone is putting on a brave face and going about daily responsibilities, but dying inside.  We have started a group online to share resources and facilitate communication throughtout the year.  It is a project I hope to expand and improve by the next convention. 

Day 1:  We arrived in DC and scouted out the Crystal Gateway Marriot and the underground shopping mall.  We went to supper at King Street Blues where we met up with our dear friends Lou and Ben, Christina, and AJ.  After a couple hours in the restaurant, it was back to the hotel where we spent the next couple hours at the bar (sober–I think I had about 12 cokes!!).  It was a great night of catching up!!

Crystal Gateway Marriott

Day 2:  Lou, Ben, Sean, and I helped Christina and her team of volunteers pack convention bags full of flyers and information.  We then headed to lunch at Bailey’s where we spent the next four hours talking and laughing and laughing and laughing.  After lunch, we headed to the hotel bar where we spent the next six hours hanging out.  Two days in DC and we’ve barely made it outside!

Ben and Lou, our friends from Scotland
Kryptonite Rita–it was huge!!
Day 3: We ventured out of the hotel with Ben and Lou and took the metro (conveniently located under the hotel) to Union Station. We walked up to Capitol Hill and got a few pictures. Ben said, “I think I felt a raindrop.” And sure enough the sky broke loose and we spent the next 20-30 minutes hanging out under a tree getting soaked to the bone. Not smart enough to enter the Capitol when the rain started. No. We walked AWAY from shelter and “hid” under a tree! Finally, we decided to find a cab and get a ride back to Union Station for lunch. By the time we found one, the sun was out and no rain in sight. A quick lunch at Johnny Rockets and back to the hotel for a meet and greet with the OPS and BVA board members. Showers and dry clothes and we headed back to Bailey’s for the evening.

Melissa and Ben at Capitol
Sean and Ben enjoying the downpour–NOT!!

Day 4:  Attended meetings in the morning and in the afternoon we went to the Pentagon City Mall for some shopping.  That evening there was a dinner sponsored by National Industries for the Blind.  We spent the rest of the night lounging in the hotel bar.

Day 5:  More meetings and a tour of the Exhibit Hall.  Sean is seriously considering a guide dog now, so we spent most of our time at those exhibits. The National President’s Reception was held that night, followed by a visit to Bailey’s for a night cap.
Day 6:  Morning Business Meeting included a performance by Barry Michael, and a speech from General James Amos who is in line to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps.  I hosted our Caregiver meeting where spouses and mothers shared their emotional stories about their challenges.  Laurie Stevens from the National Alliance for Caregiving give us some information and resources.  Lunch was in a Mexican restaurant in the underground mall  Sean went on a tandem cycling ride with a small group of OPS members.  He met up with his cycling captain, Jeff Tracey, from his USABA trip in July as well as his discus and shotput coach, Matt Hawkinson.  Dinner was at Bailey’s again.  There was an incident with pen theft (I’ll never tell) and alls well that ends well.
Sean visits with General Amos
Day 7:  Free day so Sean and I toured the National Museum of American History.  Sean’s cycling captian, Jeff Tracey, and his wife, Katie, had us over for supper with Matt Hawkinson.  We had a delicious meal of steak and potatoes and salad followed by fresh berries for dessert.  Jeff knows how to throw a party and kept the drinks coming.  It was a relaxing evening with new friends.
Infinity by Jose de Rivera
Sean getting radiated during the Cold War
Kermit the Frog
Steel beams from the 70th floor of the
World Trade Center’s South Tower
Day 8:  Sessions in the morning and King Street Blues for lunch.  Sean and I took the Metro to WRAMC to meet our FRC Rosa Hamilton.  She is one hard-working lady!  It was fantastic to talk with her and giver he the update on Sean’s med board.  She is also working with the VA to provide him with a tandem cycle so he can train at home (they will find him a local cyclist–NOT IT!)  We went to Ted’s Montana Grill for supper with a new group of friends.  Joining us were Jesse and Michael Malarsie and Kathy Champion.  Of course there was a stop at Bailey’s on the way home. 
Sean, Melissa, Michael, Jesse, Kathy with Angel, Ben, and Lou
Lou and Melissa
Day 9:  Started with a trip to the International Spy Museum where we played Operation Spy, and interactive game where our mission was to locate a missing nuclear trigger before it ends up in the wrong hands. No pressure. Just crack a few safes, decode some messages, interrogate a suspect double agent.  From there we went to Georgetown Cupcake, home of TLCs show DC Cupcakes.  We waited patiently in line, some of us more so than others, for about 40 minutes to get into the store.  The cupcakes were beautiful and smelled heavenly!  We each got a box to go and tracked down cabs to return to the hotel.  Unfortunately, there were two rallies in town that day:  Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” March and Glen Beck’s “Restoring Honor” Rally.  There was overwhelming traffic and people everywhere.  Most of the roads between DC and Virginia were closed.  Our cab driver did not know how to maneuver around and find a way through.  He kept driving us in what seemed to be the wrong direction.  Finally, we asked him to drop us at the Metro station.  What a disaster that turned out to be!!  We waited over an hour for a train that was not so sardine-packed that we could actually push our way in.  People were pushing and shoving and fighting and hanging body parts out the doors so they couldn’t close.  Once we were stuffed in, there was no moving.  The temperature was stiffling and body odor prevailed.  Yet as full as our train was, at each of the next stops more people crammed into the car.  Folks with a child and stroller barely made it out alive.  We arrived at the hotel almost 2 1/2 hours after leaving Georgetown Cupcake.  I am happy to report the cupcakes were intact, but most of the frosting had melted and ran down the sides.  They were still scrumptious!  The final Awards Banquet was held that night with a formal dinner.  Our last night in town, we kept it low-key in the hotel bar.  Tears were shed as we said our good nights.  I was so sad to leave my friends. 
Jesse, Michael, and Sean outside the International Spy Museum
International Spy Museum

Georgetown Cupcake


Jesse, Michael, Sean, Kathy, Angel, Karana, Lou, and Melissa
on our last night in DC

Lou, Jesse, and Melissa

Melissa and Christina

Day 10:  Lou and Ben met us in the lobby at 6 AM for one more good bye.  What a sweet surprise!  We flew home and were pleasantly surprised to see this cake that Keeley made for us.  She also made us supper.  What a great homecoming!

All in all it was a fabulous trip filled with lots of emotions and laughter.  We are planning trips to see each other around the country and in Scotland.  We’ve been home almost two weeks, and I’m still lonely for my friends. 

Only 338 days til Vegas!!

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