Employees who are blind working at NIB associated nonprofit agencies produce thousands of products for the U.S. armed forces and military veterans every year. From neckties for dress uniforms to fatigues to helmet components, hundreds of employees work each day to provide critical supplies. Still others operate switchboards for medical centers operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, efficiently helping callers determine which department can address their concerns.
Providing products and services for our military and veterans is a source of great pride for agency employees. Some were not able to serve in the armed forces due to their visual disability; others are veterans who lost their eyesight in the service. All are honored to contribute to our nation’s defense through their work.
Army Veteran: NIB Products Saved My Life
One member of the NIB community who has experienced both sides of the equation is veteran Jeff Mittman, a member of the NIB Board of Directors and president and CEO of NIB associated nonprofit agency Bosma Enterprises in Indianapolis. Mittman served 20 years in the U.S. Army.
Master Sergeant Mittman’s military career took a sharp detour on July 7, 2005, when he drove down a Baghdad highway directly into an all-out attack. The projectile that went through his vehicle’s six-inch-thick bullet-proof window immediately knocked Mittman unconscious. Near death, his wounds included severe head and facial trauma, as well as numerous other injuries. He awoke a month later with no memory of the attack and discovered he had lost his eyesight as a result.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Mittman credits supplies produced by NIB associated agencies with saving his life.
“When I got hurt on the battlefield, it was products produced by NIB agencies that saved my life. From the gloves they treated me with, to the bandages they used to stop the bleeding, to components of the very helmet I was wearing on my head. Without those agencies, I would not be here.”
While undergoing 40 surgeries to reconstruct his face and completing a blind rehabilitation training program with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mittman contemplated his next steps in life, knowing that his wife and two daughters needed “a husband and a father, not a memory.”
Recognizing that his military career was over, Mittman wanted to find another way to be of service. He returned to college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Troy University and ultimately, two masters’ degrees from Ball State University.
He launched a new career working with the Department of Defense as a public affairs specialist for the Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS). Within six years, he worked his way up to executive officer at DFAS and was asked to join the board of directors at NIB associated nonprofit agency Bosma Enterprises. In 2018 he was hired by Bosma as chief operating officer, and the next year he assumed leadership of the agency.
Advocating for the Blind and Visually Impaired Community
In some ways, Mittman’s life has come full-circle – Bosma annually produces 500 million medical gloves like the ones that helped save his life. Today, the decorated veteran has devoted his career to creating and sustaining employment for people who are blind.
As Bosma’s president and CEO, and as president of the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB), one of Mittman’s goals is it to educate employers about the capabilities of people who are blind and the benefits of providing accessible workplaces. “They think it’s going to be hard…they think it’s going to be expensive,” explains Mittman. “Quite frankly, most accommodations for people who are blind cost absolutely nothing.” A recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network found 59% of accommodations cost firms absolutely nothing to make, while others typically cost only $500 per employee.
At a time when organizations need innovative, creative employees, Mittman says employers overlooking people who are blind are missing out. “Blind people are creative. Everything I do, I have to figure out how to do it because I don’t use as much sight as somebody else does. When you bring that into an employment scenario, you become very productive and very creative,” he says. “There’s nothing somebody who’s blind really can’t do.”
Mittman is just one of more than 500 veterans working in NIB and its associated nonprofit agencies. On this Veterans Day and every day, we are grateful for their service and sacrifice and honored to support all who serve in our military.