Blind military veterans from the US and South Africa have visited Britain to join national sight loss charity Blind Veterans UK for an exchange week…

Members of the US organisation the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) headed to Britain through an exchange programme between the Association and Blind Veterans UK called Project Gemini.

Now in its seventh year, Project Gemini enables Blind Veterans UK and the BVA to share experiences and knowledge about matters such as blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research and adaptive technology for the blind. This year, two blind veterans from the St. Dunstan’s Association for South African War-Blinded Veterans also joined the project.

The veterans engaged in adaptive technology activities and sports for the blind including a session of goalball with members of Team GB. Other highlights included a visit to the US Embassy in London to mark the 100th anniversary of the US entering the First World War. The group also visited the Dorking Brewery on the trip.

This year, the project also included a public “Life Beyond Sight Loss” seminar on May 24. The seminar discussed veterans’ rehabilitation, eye trauma, Traumatic Brain Injuries vision conditions, and vision trauma research as a special Project Gemini initiative. Guest speakers included three internationally known ophthalmologists and Surgeon General British Defense Medical Services Vice Admiral Alasdair Walker.

The blind veterans were also excited to meet American businesswoman and model Caprice Bourret at the seminar, held at the Victory Services Club in London.Caprice, who was diagnosed and treated for a brain tumour whilst competing on the reality show “The Jump” this year, experienced sight loss and blurred vision as part of her symptoms. She says: “I only had the problems with my sight for a short period of time but it really brought the issue home to me.

"It was an honour to speak to the blind veterans, some of whom have no vision at all, and hear their inspiring stories of living independently with sight loss. My father, uncle and grandfather all served and I feel passionately about supporting Blind Veterans UK and its sister charities around the world.”

Major Tom Zampieri (Ret), a legally blind veteran himself, accompanied the group as the trip coordinator. He says: “This week, and particularly the seminar, is so important because, by bringing together experts and blinded veterans from different countries, we can learn lessons from each other’s healthcare systems and veterans’ services and influence changes that best support blind veterans in each nation.The goal is the achievement of better care for blinded veterans and their families, ensuring that they receive the highest quality of care and support they so richly deserve.”

President of Blind Veterans UK Colin Williamson, says: "Blind Veterans UK is very proud to be welcoming comrades from around the world to the UK. This week was fun, as it always is, but what it’s really about is ex-Service men and women from different countries coming together to share experiences and support each other.Continued research into the prevention, treatment and after-care of combat-related eye and brain injuries that result in sight loss is vital and, through Project Gemini, we would like to encourage research and innovation into these specific areas.”

Project Gemini recently won the International Award at the prestigious Soldiering On Awards in recognition of outstanding achievements and comradeship demonstrated internationally by those which have supported the British Armed Forces Community.

BVA traces its earliest beginnings to March 28, 1945 when a group of war-blinded servicemen met at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut.