With today being White Cane day, the following blog will describe how visual impairments impacts the lives of those who served. This only focuses on those who served during the most recent conflicts, Vietnam, and WWII and Korea. Those who served in other time periods was left off due to time constraints.
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, the National Alliance on Eye and Vision Research reports that over 197,555 combat injuries impacted the optical system. Amongst those with a Traumatic Brain Injury, over 36,000 have presented in poly-trauma clinics with short to long term functional visual impairments. 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. 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.
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 related to Agent Orange exposure. 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.
World War II and Korean War Veterans:
For those Veterans who served during these eras, a combination of service related and age related conditions take a heavy toll on sight impairments and independent living. Both of these generations reached the ages when Age Related Macular Degeneration increases exponentially. In many cases, a co-occurring hearing impairment adds to their limitations. .
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.