VA and Blind and Low Vision Veterans
As the veteran population ages, and as veterans come back from war with increasing numbers of traumatic brain injury (TBI), the number of veterans who are legally blind or have low vision is increasing exponentially. Low vision and blindness can be caused by accidents, and brain injuries, but many veterans are losing their vision because of age and disease-related factors, such as macular degeneration and diabetes.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order on January 8, 1944, which declared: “No blinded serviceman from World War II (WWII) would be returned to their homes without adequate training to meet the problems of necessity imposed upon them by their blindness.” After the war ended, the VA accepted the responsibility of adjustment training for blinded veterans.
Legal blindness is defined as: central acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with ordinary corrective glasses; or, central visual acuity better than 20/200 in the better eye, and a field defect in which the peripheral field at its widest tested diameter is less than 20 degrees. The VA estimates that there are 160,000 legally blind veterans.
In addition, there are over one million veterans with low vision, which is defined as uncorrectable visual impairment between 20/70 up to legal blindness.
The VA addresses the problems associated with veterans who are blind or have low vision in many ways. Currently, there are 10 Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRC), and many Visual Impairment Services Teams (VIST) throughout the country.
The Blind Rehabilitation Centers offer daily training and counseling for veterans who are totally blind, as well as those veterans who have low vision. The programs are designed for inpatient stays, but in certain circumstances the veterans can receive the services on an outpatient basis. The programs offer classes in orientation and mobility, including training on aids for travel, such as canes. Veterans are fitted with low vision devices and are trained in how better to use their remaining senses. The VA also funds training for one family member who will play a significant role in the Veteran’s continued adjustment to community living.
Veterans and active duty personnel who are eligible for VA health care and meet the criteria of legal blindness or need comprehensive treatment in order for the veteran’s safety or functional independence or to be restored.
For low vision veterans, there is an outpatient program similar to the BRC called VISOR, or visual impairment services outpatient rehabilitation. VISOR is a nine-day outpatient program, which teaches skills similar to those taught in the BRC’s. The difference is that for those veterans enrolled in VISOR, they must be able to take care of all of their own activities of daily living. VISOR does provide safe accommodations where participants can stay during the nine-day outpatient treatment.
Here is a link for more information about the blind and low vision services available to veterans: http://www.aao.org/veterans/news/low-vision.cfm.