August 16, 2008 – More than 700 people attended the Blind Veterans Association Convention in Phoenix this week and discussions centered on improving the quality of life for those who lose their sight in war.
The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that there are about 165,000 blinded veterans nationwide.The convention at the Hyatt Regency offered dozens of seminars, exhibits and information designed to inform blind veterans of the many resources available to them.
Steve Beres, of Phoenix, attended the convention with the National Industries for the Blind, a group that works to tell blind veterans of possible employment opportunities.
Beres, 42, who lost his eyesight in 2002 while fighting in the Middle East, said his world changed after the injury.
“I think a lot of us identify ourselves with our job and I know for me personally I had to ask myself, ‘What now? What am I going to do with the rest of my life now?’ And I was afraid I was going to end up sitting on a couch listening to Jerry Springer.”
There was lots of outreach to the newly injured as well.
“We got together a bunch of newly blinded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to . . . provide camaraderie,” Beres said. “The majority of those people return back to their communities and they really don’t have anybody with shared experiences.”
Beres heard many conversations about getting on with life after becoming blind.
Matthew Slaydon, 37, of Avondale, lost his sight in October 2007. He has spent this week running his future career goals by other blind veterans. After talking to other veterans who have continued their education, Slaydon plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology next year.
“Coming here has allowed me to see people who have pursued careers and gone on with their lives and really given me a chance to put things in perspective,” he said.