There are approximately 130,428 veterans in the US who are legally blind, and more than one million veterans who have low vision that causes a loss of ability to perform necessary daily activities. Those figures are expected to increase in the years ahead as more veterans from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts develop vision loss from age-related diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
The VA provides blind and vision rehabilitation programs to eligible veterans and active duty members who are visually impaired. The VA is the first national healthcare system to completely and seamlessly integrate rehabilitation services for patients with visual impairments into its health benefits. This ensures that patients receive the finest medical and rehabilitation care, as well as cutting-edge assistive technology.
The VA offers several programs for blind and vision-impaired veterans including:
Vision Impairment Services In Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR) Program
These programs provide short-term (about 2 weeks) blind and vision rehabilitation. They provide overnight accommodations for veterans and active duty members who are visually impaired and require lodging. Those who attend VISOR must be able to perform basic activities of daily living independently, including the ability to self-medicate. In addition to the low vision and orientation and mobility services already described, VISOR also provides training in communication, activities of daily living and computer use.
Intermediate And Advanced Low Vision Clinics
When basic low-vision services available at VA eye clinics are no longer sufficient for veterans with low vision, VA intermediate and advanced low vision clinics provide clinical examinations, a full spectrum of vision-enhancing devices, and specialized training. Eye care specialists and Blind Rehabilitation Specialists work together in interdisciplinary teams to assure that veterans and active duty members with low vision are provided with the technology and techniques to enhance their remaining sight and facilitate their independence.
Blind Rehabilitation Centers
A residential inpatient program that provides comprehensive adjustment to blindness training and serves as a resource to a catchment area usually comprised of multiple states. BRC's offer a variety of skill courses designed to help blinded veterans achieve a realistic level of independence. These skill areas include orientation and mobility, communication skills, activities of daily living, manual skills, visual skills, computer access training and social/recreational activities. The veteran is also assisted in making an emotional and behavioral adjustment to blindness through individual counseling sessions and group therapy meetings. There are thirteen (13) Blind Rehabilitation Centers in the US and Puerto Rico.
Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS)
BROS are multi-skilled professionals who perform a wide array of blind rehabilitation services including assessments and visual skills, living skills and orientation and mobility training. BROS serve visually impaired patients in their homes, VA medical centers or clinics, colleges or universities, work sites, and long-term care environments. The BROS offer pre/post Blind Rehabilitation Center training, and also instruct those who may not be able to travel to a Blind Rehabilitation Center. BROS also provide training to family members.
Visual Impairment Centers To Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS) Program
The Visual Impairment Center to Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS) concept was developed to complement existing inpatient Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRCs) to care for Veterans with significant visual impairment (20/70 to 20/200 or worse visual acuity and/or significant visual field loss). The interdisciplinary VICTORS outpatient program represents a unique team approach to vision rehabilitation using the disciplines of optometry, ophthalmology, social work, psychology and low vision therapists. VICTORS provides rehabilitation through definitive medical diagnosis, functional vision evaluation, prescribing and training in use of low vision aids, counseling and follow-up.
Technology And Guide Dogs
Patients are provided with the technology they need to regain their independence and return to full activity. Approved technology required by veterans is provided by VA Prosthetics Service at no cost.
While VA doesn't provide guide dogs, they coordinate with agencies that do. Training methods have been adapted and breeding requirements modified to provide dogs more suited to working with an older population, as well as those with multiple disabilities and health difficulties.
Family Centered Care
Families are valued members of the interdisciplinary treatment team and the VA is committed to providing compassionate family-centered care. Family members provide unique perspective on the history, values and goals of the individual, and are critical in the adjustment and rehabilitation process.
Research and Clinical Evaluation Programs
The VA has consistently been a leader in development of sensory and prosthetic research, and each Blind Rehabilitation Center is actively involved in research, development and evaluation of devices. Many devices that were involved in research programs in past years are now part of the regular and special rehabilitation programs at the Blind Rehabilitation Centers. As new devices are developed that may assist blind persons, the VA will be among the first to evaluate them.
How To Get Help For Your Vision Loss
Veterans and eligible active duty members should contact the Vision Impairment Services Team Coordinator in the VA medical center nearest their home. Check the VETS.GOV website for the location & contact information.
For more information about VA programs for blind and vision-impaired veterans check out the VA's website.