As a way to start off this blog, one needs to first understand the various visual impairments commonly impacting Veterans. In an oversimplified manner to accomplish this mission, this post will describe visual impairments by war era. I do not wish to discredit those Veterans who served either during peacetime or between these major conflicts, but rather identify those eras those outside Veteran communities might understand.
The Blinded Veterans Association reports from Department of Veterans Affairs statistics that over 158,000 visually impaired Veterans live amongst us. The rate these increase each year is around 7,000 Veterans.
Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn:
From the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly 17% of injured Service Members incurred a visual impairment. 36,000 have received visual impairments related to Traumatic Brain injuries. The VA’s Public Health Services reports a much larger number, 118,150 Veterans, as incurring some form of optical injury. All of these differing conditions are directly related to penetrating or concussive/blast injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), shrapnel, gunshot wounds, and environmental incidents. These injuries creates a range of injuries from losing an eye, low vision, legal blindness, to complete blindness.
There are still many more unreported cases of these recent Veterans with functional sight impairments that range from issues with glare, headaches, blind spots, reading difficulties, and numerous other conditions. Research has only recently started to examine functional blindness, and many doctors, case managers, and organizations still question the legitimacy of these claims. However, these conditions are real, especially to those Veterans and Service Members living with them.
Vietnam Era Veterans
The fastest growing segment of Veterans developing visual impairments includes those who served either in Southeast Asia or during that era. With research showing high correlations between Agent Orange and many troubling health conditions, more than direct physical injuries to the optical systems can receive service connection for sight loss. Most notably are those secondary impacts from Diabetes. Alternatively, many of our Vietnam Era Veterans continue to reach the age when various age related conditions arise like macular degeneration. For these individuals, there is no reason why with proper resources they should discontinue any of those activities they most enjoy.
Looking at the Department of Veterans Affairs eligibility for compensation, here are a few thoughts. For those Veterans who lost an eye during their military service, they can qualify for an increase in their disability compensation should the remaining eye begins to deteriorate. This stems from the VA’s policy on paired organs, like Eyes, hearing, kidneys, and lungs. Any loss or functioning of the remaining paired organ will be considered as service connected as it is the only remaining organ of its kind. On a different note, some Veterans have received compensation for sight loss from diabetes retinopathy, since Agent Orange exposure caused their diabetes. While this is a grey area matter, one should consult a certified Veteran Service Officer.
World War II and Korean War Veterans:
For those Veterans who served during these eras, a combination of service related andage related conditions take a heavy toll on sight impairments and independent living. Both of these generations reached the ages when Age Related Macular Degeneration or glaucoma increases exponentially. Some estimates show that over 20% of those 80 years of older develop these forms of sight loss. In many cases, a co-occurring hearing impairment adds to their limitations. This places a very heavy burden on both the Veteran and their support systems.
Department of Veterans Affairs Services
One should not give up hope, as the VA offers an array of Blind Rehabilitation Services that can occur anywhere from home based interventions to extended training within the Blind Rehab Centers. It matters not if the Veteran incurred their sight loss from war or developed a naturally occurring condition, VA Blind Rehab Services provides training and even equipment to all Veterans. Many Veterans qualify for these services at no cost. Entry point into these programs requires one to contact their Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) or visit the below website.