Local vets celebrate Blinded Veterans Day

Air Force veteran Ken Asam and Army veteran Gary Simpson, left to right, hold a Blinded Veterans Day sign that was on display at the SCV Bella Vida Senior Center for the holiday on March 28, 2021. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Each year, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to honor all those who have served the country.

A lesser known — but just as important holiday — comes four months later in March to celebrate veterans who have lost their vision in service to their country.

National Blinded Veterans Day not only recognizes these veterans, but also commemorates the founding of the Blinded Veterans Association, or BVA, 76 years prior.

The organization was formed when approximately 100 World War II veterans who lost their sight in combat gathered to help one another.

Now 76 years later, veterans across the nation are doing the same, including right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Santa Clarita resident and Air Force veteran Kenneth Asam has used his role as president of the BVA’s Southern California Regional to help educate his fellow veterans of the resources available to them, just as his neighbor and Army veteran Gary Simpson, now first vice president of the BVA, had done for him years prior.

“Gary’s the one that got me to sign up for the (Department of Veterans Affairs) when he found out I was having troubles because we’ve got a lot of the same problems, but he’s got some of them worse than I do,” Asam said.

Similarly, when Simpson’s vision began affecting him 20 years ago, it was another veteran who told him of the VA’s benefits, leading him to find out he suffered from wet macular degeneration, which causes blurred vision or blind spots.

For Asam, his vision troubles began a few years ago when he suffered a retinal vein occlusion, which is commonly referred to as an “eye stroke,” and lost vision in his left eye.

U.S. Air Force veteran Ken Asam, left, and Executive Director Kevin MacDonald prepare to raise the United States flag in front of the the Bella Vida Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center during the Bella Vida Veterans Day Tribute in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Both veterans shared a similar feeling of gratitude for the VA, which has not only provided various technologies, such as special magnification lenses, computers, tablets and phones, at no cost to assist them in not allowing their visual impairments to affect their everyday lives, but also trained them in using each device.

“They’ve done so much for me, (so) I try to do what I can for them,” Simpson said.

Asam agreed, adding, “If they’re going to be good to me, and I had the ability to be good to them, I owe it to them.”

From its early beginnings, the BVA has worked hand-in-hand with the VA to encourage war-blinded veterans and those who lose their sight due to disease or age-related causes to regain their independence, confidence and self-esteem through VA vision rehabilitation training and BVA resources.

“The two are working together for a common good,” Asam said. “They have various training programs to help veterans first to adapt to their handicap and to get re-integrated into society and to function properly.”

Now, both Asam and Simpson continue to do what they can to both educate fellow veterans and assist them in understanding the resources and equipment, such as the OrCam MyEye that Asam uses, a portable device that reads text and identifies objects through audio feedback.

“(We’ve) always got eyes open, as much as possible, for guys that need veteran help,” Simpson said.

“No pun intended,” Asam added, chuckling.

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