Below you will find an assortment of reference materials and resources specifically for visually impaired and blinded Veterans. These consists of information and resources related to the Department of Veterans Affairs Blind Rehab Services, VA Blind Rehab Centers, and organizations supporting visually impaired Veterans. Like any resource page, this will continue to grow and expand, so check back.
An objective of Blind Not Alone involves compiling resources and links related to disablement. Below are some of the other pages you might be interested in: specifically to:
- Disability Resources and Links
- Veterans Benefits, Services, and Disability Information
- Department of Veterans Affairs Blind and Visually Impaired Veterans Services
- Service Animals and Guide Dog Resources and Information
The Department of Veterans Affairs and its support entities offers visually impaired Veterans some of the best resources, training programs, and easy access to the tools and technologies enhancing personal independence. In fact, the history related to many of the techniques, like the tap method with the white cane, originated thanks to the dedication and partnerships between the VA, American Foundation for the Blind, and war blinded Veterans from World War II. In recent years, advocacy efforts by the Blinded Veterans Association and the Department of Defense established the Vision Center of Excellence, which enables researchers a mechanism furthering the prevention, treatment, diagnosing, and rehab for trauma induced occular injuries and blindness. The combination of these efforts ensures America’s war blinded, like myself, receive the services and training our sacrifice requires to become independent and contributing members of society.
The heart of the VA’s blind rehab program resides within the VA’s central office’s Blind Rehab Services department. Due to the VA’s decentralized structure that provides the individual VA Medical Centers the ability to develop, execute, administer, and terminate programs, all the elements of Blind Rehab Services still look towards the BRS for guidance, training, and assistance advocating for the importance of blind services.
A Blind Rehab Center stands as the most effective way for a Veteran to successfully learn the various skills to be blind. This occurs through a combination of one on one instruction, group settings, and the most important peer support. On average, a Veteran undergoes four weeks of training, though this actually ranges between one week to twelve weeks based on the needs and abilities of each Veteran.
The Edward Hines Jr. Blind Rehab Center represents the cornerstone of the VA’s Blind Rehab program. The Hines Blind Rehab Center was the first VA blind rehab center ever developed, opening its doors in 1946. Today, Hines stills captures the attention of visually impaired Veterans and blind rehab specialists thanks to the efficacy of its programs, emphasis on Veterans centered care by the center’s Chief, and its role in educating students pursuing a Masters in Blind Rehab. While it commonly serves Veterans living in the midwest, its not uncommon to encounter Veterans from throughout the United States requesting a referral to attend this program.
- 5000 South 5th Avenue, Hines, IL 60141
- Main – (708) 202-2272
Located within the Waco VA medical center, this quaint program is preferred by many Veterans where traveling to Chicago or other larger cities might be difficult.
- 4800 Memorial Drive, Waco, TX, 76711
Visual Impairment Services Team Program
Eligibility For The VA’s Visual Impairments Services Team (VIST) Program
The VIST program provides services to veterans who are legally blind or visually impaired. Eligibility is defined in a number of ways. The VIS Coordinator is the local VA facility subject matter expert with regard to blindness and low vision. The Coordinator provides case management of blind and visually impaired Veterans. Visually impaired veterans are provided restorative services and referrals on a consultation basis. Non- legally blind veterans are provided services as needed (PRN). All veterans referred to the program receive an assessment of needs and appropriate interventional strategies. The three main ways to qualify includes:
- Legal blindness – Best corrected visual acuity of 20/200 on a Snellen eye chart or fields no greater than 20 degrees with both eyes.
- Functional vision impairment – Functional visual impairment is a significant limitation of visual capability resolution from disease, trauma or congenital condition that cannot be fully corrected by standard refractive correction, medication or surgery, and is manifested by one or more of the following; (1)insufficient visual resolution (worse than 20/60 in the better eye); (2) inadequate field of vision (worse than 20 degrees along the widest meridian in the eye with the more intact central field) or homonymous hemianopia; (3) reduced peak contrast sensitivity; and (4) insufficient visual resolution or peak contrast sensitivity (see 1 and 3) at high or low lighting within a range typically encountered in every day life.
- Excess disabilities – An excess disability is characterized by problems and task performance difficulties related to vision loss that have a substantial impact on the person’s functional independence or personal safety, and that are out of proportion to the degree of visual impairment as measured by visual acuities or visual fields. Veterans whose vision is better than legal blindness may have excess disability due to; (1) sudden and/or traumatic visual disorder (especially related to military service); (2) disabling co-morbidities (e.g., hearing impairment, mobility impairment, etc.); (3) systemic diseases that cause fluctuating visual impairment; (4) combined losses of other vision functions (e.g. contrast sensitivity, stereopsis, etc.); (5) sudden changes in caregiver status; or (6) other reasons.
If you have or know a Veteran that meets any of these criteria, contact your nearest Veterans Affairs Medical Center and ask for their Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator. If you wish to talk with a blinded Veteran before taking this first step, feel free to join us on our Blind Vet Tech monthly teleconferences or send us an email.
The VA offers Veterans a variety of services from low vision clinics to extensive blind rehabilitation training for qualified Veterans. Additionally, legally blind Veterans receive the priority designation of Catastrophically disabled level 4 (or Cat4), opening numerous benefits and services. The VIST coordinator is the gateway to these benefits and services. All you need to do is contact your nearest VAMC and ask for your Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator to get started.