Paul Mimms - Focusing on What He Has to Give, Not on What He Lost
It took the loss of his vision to set Paul Mimms on the career path that he would find the most fulfilling. Mimms was born in Iowa, but moved to Kansas City, Missouri, at the age of 15, and graduated high school in 1963 as one of the top 10 students of his class.
The 1960s were a tumultuous time for the United States of America, and as the decade progressed, America stepped up its involvement in Vietnam. Despite popular impression, two thirds of American troops volunteered to serve their nation; Mimms was one of them. He admits, though, that with a draft number of 2, “I enlisted in the Navy rather than be drafted into the Army.” He planned to serve his country, fulfill his commitment, and then return to civilian life.
Mimms was stationed in San Diego for a year and a half before being deployed to Vietnam in January 1968 aboard the USS Luzerne County, which was designed to support amphibious operations.
Two months later, Mimms received the injury that would redefine his life. After unloading ammunition from the ship, the support arm for a loading pulley that was unsecured swung free, hitting him directly in the left eye. “I never saw it coming,” he recalls. As a result of the accident, he lost most of the vision in that eye.
However, they were on a mission, and it was not until four months later that he was able to see an eye doctor when the ship docked in Guam; the vision in his left eye had not returned. Mimms returned to the United States in August 1968 for further diagnosis and treatment, and was discharged in January 1969.
A new beginning
Mimms applied for blind rehabilitation training from both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, and went on to receive services at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Hines, Illinois, VA hospital.
He went on to get his bachelor degree in sociology and his master’s in social work. He applied for and was hired as a readjustment counselor at the Vet Center, a program of the VA, in Kansas City. Part of his job entailed going out in to the community. “I became the person for homeless outreach,” he says, traveling to shelters and soup kitchens, accompanied by his guide dog. While working at the vet center, Mimms also started a computer users group for people who were blind or visually impaired, and a vision impairment services support group at the Kansas City VA.
In 2000, he transferred to the West Palm Beach (Florida) VA Medical Center to teach blind veterans how to use computers (called “computer access training” or CAT), and he was one of the first instructors in the CATs and Dogs program. (This two-week program is currently based out of the Gulf Coast VA in Biloxi, Mississippi. Blind veterans learn how to use computers for part of the day, and then train with guide dogs for the other.)
By 2004, Mimms was ready to expand his responsibilities. A job opening for a VIST (Visual Impairment Services Team) coordinator had opened up, and “I felt like I could do the job; I was ready.” It would turn out to be the job that “was the most rewarding of my career.”
In addition to counseling blind veterans, he set up clinics for to teach people how to use talking medical devices, and he did a lot of outreach to the community. “I had my fingers in a lot of pies,” he laughs.
What made him so effective, Mimms says, is that along with his education, “I knew what they were going through; I had the actual experience that they had.”
Mimms decided to get a guide dog in 1987, after a friend who used a guide dog let him take a short walk – “I was sold,” he laughs – but he wanted to wait until his finished his bachelor’s degree. He got his first dogs from other schools before training with his first Guide Dog Foundation dog in 2004. (America’s VetDogs, created by the Foundation in 2003, provides guide dogs for blind veterans.) He trained with his second dog from VetDogs in 2010.
With his guide dogs, Mimms says, “I have traveled much more expansively than I believe I would have using a cane. Beyond the work relationship, I just can’t ignore the extra source of love the guide represents, or the love I give them back.”
From the Navy to the corporate world to the VA, Paul Mimms has used his curiosity and propensity for learning to propel him forward while giving back: to put himself in another’s place, and focus, not on what he had lost, but what he has to offer.