Photo courtesy of Felix Chen
|Blinded Veteran Sets Sights on Encouraging Others
In February 2011, Brad Snyder’s life changed forever. As part of an elite military bomb squad serving in Afghanistan, the lieutenant stepped on a roadside bomb. The last thing Brad saw was that he still had his arms and legs after the explosion. But just six days later, he was told he’d never see again.
“The worst part was losing the ability to serve,” Brad said. “I have training to build bombs, dive into the ocean to diffuse bombs and jump out of planes. I can’t do those things anymore.”
But Brad and his family decided that his blindness would not define him or hold him back. In fact, on the one-year anniversary of the explosion, Brad won a gold medal at the London Paralympics in swimming freestyle events. It was one of two gold medals he won in swimming at the event.
In June, Brad will get a new companion. He’ll be partnered with a guide dog that matches his personality, lifestyle and height. Brad and his dog will spend a month learning to work together. Getting the dog will change how he lives and allow him to do things on his own even more. “With a dog, I can get a cab to the train station, take the train to the city, spend a day in New York, take a flight to Los Angeles — all on my own,” Brad said.
While Brad’s accomplishments are impressive, his injuries are not unique among veterans.
Legal blindness means the better eye, using the best possible methods of correction, has visual acuity of 20/200 or worse. It can also mean that the visual field is restricted to 20 degrees or less. For example, a legally blind person might need to stand 20 feet from an object to see it with the same degree of clarity as a normally sighted person could from 200 feet.
Low vision, also known as vision impairment, means that even with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, you don’t see well. Vision impairment can range from mild to severe. The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness in the United States are age-related eye diseases: macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma. Other eye disorders, eye injuries and birth defects can also cause vision loss.
Brad has not let his blindness stop him from achieving his goals. Not only does he have a job at a consulting firm near Washington, D.C., but he also continues to work closely with organizations like the COMMIT foundation, which helps veterans get back into the civilian workplace. And he is the spokesperson for Service for Sight: Joining Forces, a Delta Gamma Fraternity program providing volunteers and fundraising for veterans with vision impairments.
Brad said, “When faced with adversity, we have two options: you can decide to be a victim, or you can decide not to let adversity become a barrier. I hope that my actions continue to pave the way for others to overcome their own bouts with adversity.”
In recognition of Healthy Vision month, make taking care of your eyes a priority. More than one million people in this country are legally blind, and approximately 12 million have some degree of uncorrected visual impairment. Learn more about keeping your eyes healthy.
To get information about organizations that support veterans with vision loss or to learn more about volunteering in your area, visit the Blinded Veterans Association, Service for Sight: Joining Forces, or The United States Association of Blind Athletes Military Sport Program.
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