In the military our creed is that we leave no soldier behind — Chuck Miller
Meet Aira Explorer and Veteran Chuck Miller
Before losing his sight to Retinitis Pigmentosa fourteen years ago, Chuck Miller retired after a 28-year Army career. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoys daily walks with his guide dog Troy, frequent hikes in the northeastern Florida woods and is the first veteran with blindness to be VA- certified as a sailor. He was an invited ambassador for the 2017 VA Summer Sports Clinic to mentor other veterans and as if that is not enough, he participates in the annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Suffice it to say he is a guy on the go.
Chuck became an Aira Explorer in July of 2017 with the aim of enhancing his daily independence. He is passionate about getting Aira into the hands of other veterans and we talked with him about why he feels this so strongly.
“Since I started using the Aira services, it is the most independent I have felt as a blind person since I went blind.“
You mention independence a lot. Can you elaborate?
Sure. I am 6’2” and 230 pounds, and a real frustration for me is asking other people for help for the simplest little thing. Using these glasses gives you the opportunity to not ask for help.
Beyond your outdoor pursuits are there everyday things you do with Aira?
Absolutely. I do look for normal little things I do that would catch the attention of another blind vet. I have two quick ones. Most vets deal with organizing medications weekly and I always had a sighted person assisting right next to me. Now my Aira agent tells me what he or she sees and I sort them myself.
My second story is about grocery shopping. I used to settle for whatever a sighted shopper picked for me. Now my agent helps me find that can of Del Monte no salt green beans I really want. Or verifies the weight of an item on a label for me so I know that I am getting what I am paying for. The Agent is not physically in the store, but sees from my vantage point and relays information so I can make my own decision.
So those are every day things. How about a couple of things that went beyond a normal day?
Those are easy! My first “aha” moment with Aira happened the first hour I used the glasses. With an agent narrating what he saw through my glasses I quickly navigated a very crowded convention floor and stairs to find a meeting room. It was amazing. This was the very first hour. I went straight back to the Aira booth and told them that I wanted to help any way I could to get these into the hands of other veterans.
My second memorable moment came at the annual Bike Ride Across Iowa where I was a participant. On a midday break I literally led a group of mostly sighted riders through the crowds to a food area, selected my food items from the menu and paid — — without their help. My Aira Agent was relaying all that he saw through my glasses. For my friends it was a pretty enlightening moment.
How would you best describe the Aira services?
I just explained this to a fellow vet the other day. The Aira Agents tell you what is around you and you make your best- informed decision. They don’t have their hands on your backs pushing you and controlling what you do. Every Aira Agent I have interacted with so far has given me facts without personal opinions. They tell me what’s available and I make my own decision. I like that.
If you could get one wish granted by the VA. what would it be?
That’s an easy one. In the military our creed is that we leave no soldier behind. I would like to see the VA leave no veteran with blindness or low vision behind. My wish would be that the VA gives every blind vet the opportunity to come out of the darkness.