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Blinded Veterans Association helps change veterans lives

SPARKS, Nev. -- Dozens of veterans are in Sparks this week for the 69th National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association. The organization serves the needs of blind and visually impaired veterans and their families.

More than 11,000 veterans belong to the BVA. All members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. This week, several members are attending their annual convention, which involves information sessions, special events, and reuniting with old friends.

"Most of the benefits and services available to visually impaired and blinded veterans today are the result of BVA's advocacy over the years,” said Tom Miller.

Miller was the BVA's Executive Director until he retired. He said their annual convention helps blind veterans understand and receive benefits they earned through their service. "The annual convention is to get together to discuss issues and to establish friendships."

Miller lost his vision in 1967 during the Vietnam War. He said one of the main goals of the BVA is to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life, and the Operation Peer Support Program focuses on doing just that. "I didn’t know there were so many more people in the same situation that I was in, living without sight," said BVA member Travis Fugate.

Fugate was injured in Iraq about 9 years ago. "I had a little bit of vision for a few years and then eventually lost all of my sight."

Fugate said attending the BVA convention changed his life. "In 2007, I went home with new energy, I saw what I could be and I started working towards it."

Fugate is now working towards his computer science degree. He said he continues attending BVA conventions to try and inspire others. "And show them that I’ve lived independently and that I’ve had success in all aspects of life since I lost my vision."

The last day of the convention is Thursday, but if you are interested in joining BVA, there is no charge for any BVA service. For more information, head to their website.