May will soon be here and with it, Military Appreciation Month. NIB associated nonprofit agencies are proud of the work they do to support the military and America’s veterans, including employing more than 550 veterans. Today, we spotlight two military veterans who are blind who continue to serve our country through their employment with NIB associated agencies.
Rick Medina was following in his brother’s footsteps when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1986. He had hoped to make a career of it but was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and medically discharged after only 18 months. That didn’t stop Medina from continuing to serve the military: He got a civil service job as a medical supply buyer at the hospital he had worked in while on active duty and remained there until the base closed in 1996.
Medina then transferred to Luke Air Force Base, where he worked until 2006, when his sight deteriorated to the point that he was declared legally blind and medically retired.
Although retired from civil service, Medina wasn’t ready to retire from serving others. He joined Arizona Industries for the Blind in 2009 as a customer service representative at the AbilityOne Base Supply Center® (BSC) on Luke Air Force Base, where he helps troops prepare for deployment. “Each person needs about 30 pieces of equipment when they are deployed. I make sure they get everything they need,” says Medina, who estimates he’s helped equip more than 400 military men and women over the years.
“Working for AIB as part of the AbilityOne® Program has given me the opportunity to provide for my family and also continue to serve my brothers and sisters in uniform,” says Medina. “Here, I can be myself.”
Antonio Arbelo, who served nearly 8 years in the U.S. Navy, is continuing to serve his fellow veterans by working at NIB associated agency Alphapointe in Kansas City, Missouri, on a contract to manufacture, pack, and ship medicine bottles for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Arbelo enlisted in February 1985. After basic and advanced training, he was assigned to an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, and for nearly eight years it was his job to, as he says, “blow things up.” Wounded on a mission, he lost sight in one eye and was medically discharged in 1992.
After his discharge, Arbelo says, he had to find himself all over again. “My marriage failed, and I found myself fighting another war, this time inside myself.” But he kept going, won that war, and is at peace now. He worked 10 years for the city in Kansas City, but retired after losing vision in his other eye as a complication of renal failure.
Despite being blind, Arbelo was not ready to retire. He joined Alphapointe in October 2016, as a full-time packer and machinist in the plastics department, where he helps fulfill the VA contract. “I’m pretty sure I’ve made a lot of the bottles in my own medicine cabinet,” he says with a laugh.
Arbelo appreciates the ability to work and to serve other veterans. “It gives me purpose. Veterans have so much to offer, but we don’t often get to show how what we learned in the military applies in the civilian world,” he says. “Veterans can bring a lot.”