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Services And Aid For Blind Veterans

September 9, 2023

In the vast tapestry of sacrifices made by our veterans, the challenges faced by those with visual impairments often remain an untold story. These brave individuals, having already given so much for their country, find themselves navigating a world that has suddenly changed for them. However, in the face of such adversity, hope and support shine brightly through the dedicated efforts of organizations and initiatives aimed at aiding blind veterans. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in particular, has been at the forefront of providing comprehensive services tailored to the unique needs of these heroes. From specialized medical benefits to innovative rehabilitation programs, the VA ensures that visually impaired veterans are not left to face their challenges alone. 

In this guide, we will explore the available services and aid for blind veterans. Dive into the VA's initiatives like VISOR, BROS, and Blind Rehabilitation Centers, understanding their eligibility criteria and the vast range of services they offer to support visually impaired veterans.

Program Contact202-461-7317
Additional InfoVA Blind Rehabilitation Service Website
Managing AgencyU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Understanding Services And Aid For Blind Veterans

Blind veterans face unique challenges, and understanding the range of medical benefits available to them is crucial. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a comprehensive suite of services tailored to the needs of visually impaired veterans.

Definition Of Legal Blindness

Legal blindness is a term defined by the American Foundation for the Blind. It refers to a medically diagnosed central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. It's worth noting that many individuals diagnosed as legally blind still possess some usable vision. The levels of visual impairment are categorized as follows:

  • 20/30 to 20/60: Mild vision loss or near-normal vision.

  • 20/70 to 20/160: Moderate visual impairment or moderate low vision.

  • 20/200 to 20/400: Severe visual impairment or severe low vision.

  • 20/500 to 20/1,000: Profouual impairment or near-total blindness.

  • No light perception: Total visual impairment or total blindness.nd visual impairment or profound low vision.

  • More than 20/1,000: Near-total visual impairment or near-total blindness.

  • No light perception: Total visual impairment or total blindness.

Services Offered By The VA

Blind veterans may be eligible for various services at a VA Medical Center or even admission to a VA blind rehabilitation center or clinic. These services are available at all VA medical facilities through the Visual Impairment Services (VIST) Coordinator. Some of the aids and services include:

  • A total health and benefits review by a VA Visual Impairment services team.

  • Adjustment to Blindness Training.

  • Home improvements and structural alterations.

  • Specially adapted housing and adaptations.

  • Low vision aids and training in their use.

  • Electronic and mechanical aids for the blind, including adaptive computers and devices like reading machines and electronic travel aids.

  • Talking books, tapes, and Braille literature.

  • Support in identifying sources for guide dogs and assistance with the application process, training expenses, and medical care for the guide dog.

The VA also operates several Blind Rehabilitation Centers that offer comprehensive training to help veterans achieve independence. This training covers various skill areas, including communication, mobility, daily living, manual and visual skills, computer access, and more.

VA Policy On Guide Dogs

Veterans enrolled in VA health care may qualify for a guide/service dog. The VA medical team performs a complete clinical evaluation to determine the best assistance for the veteran. While the VA doesn't directly provide guide dogs, they coordinate with accredited non-VA agencies that do. Once a veteran becomes proficient in using their guide dog, the dog becomes the veteran's property.

The VA covers various expenses associated with owning a guide dog, including veterinary care, equipment (e.g., harness), prescribed medications, and certain dental procedures. However, over-the-counter medications, food, grooming, boarding, and other routine expenses are not covered.

DAV's Role For Blind Veterans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization plays a pivotal role in supporting blind veterans. They co-sponsor the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic, an adaptive golf program promoting rehabilitation for veterans with visual impairments and other disabilities. DAV's Blind Veterans National Chapter offers a unique platform for veterans with sight loss to connect and share experiences.

Healthcare Services

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been at the forefront of providing comprehensive medical and rehabilitation services to visually impaired veterans. Recognizing the unique needs of this population, the VA has integrated rehabilitation services for patients with visual impairments into its health benefits. This integration ensures that patients receive top-notch medical care, rehabilitation, and the latest in assistive technology.

The VA offers several programs tailored for blind and vision-impaired veterans:

Vision Impairment Services In Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR) Program

This program offers short-term blind and vision rehabilitation, providing overnight accommodations for those who require lodging. The program covers various areas, including low vision, orientation, mobility services, communication, daily living activities, and computer use.

Eligibility Criteria For The VISOR Program

To be eligible for the VISOR Program, veterans and service members must meet the following criteria:

  1. VA Healthcare Eligibility: The individual must be eligible for VA Healthcare services. This ensures that the veteran or service member is within the VA system and can access the range of services offered.

  2. Visual Impairments:

  • Legal Blindness: This refers to a specific level of visual impairment where an individual's best corrected visual acuity is 20/200 or worse in the better-seeing eye, or if the visual field is 20 degrees or less.

  • Decrease Or Change In Vision: Veterans who experience a decrease or change in their vision that cannot be corrected with standard glasses are eligible. This recognizes that not all visual impairments fall under the category of legal blindness, but they can still significantly impact an individual's daily life.

  • Vision Changes Due To Traumatic Events: Any change in vision resulting from a traumatic brain injury or stroke also qualifies an individual for the VISOR program. Such events can lead to sudden and significant changes in vision, requiring specialized care and rehabilitation.

The VISOR Program uses a team approach to provide services, ensuring that all services are based on a thorough assessment of the veteran's strengths, needs, and personal goals. Veterans and their families are encouraged to actively participate in their services, identifying personal goals and providing ongoing feedback regarding progress. While services are primarily provided at the VISOR clinic, based on the veteran's goals and needs, some services may also be provided in the community or at the veteran's home within a 50-mile radius of the VISOR Clinic.

Intermediate And Advanced Low-Vision Clinics

For veterans whose needs surpass the basic low-vision services at VA eye clinics, these clinics offer clinical examinations, a range of vision-enhancing devices, and specialized training.

Eligibility Criteria For The ILVC

To be considered for the services provided by the Intermediate Low Vision Clinic, prospective patients must meet the following criteria:

  • VA Health Benefits: The Veteran must be eligible for VA health benefits. This also extends to active-duty Service members.

  • Visual Impairment: The individual must possess a visual impairment. This acknowledges that the person has a significant reduction in vision, which may impact their daily activities and overall quality of life.

  • Excess Disability Designation: Some Veterans might receive a designation of excess disability. This refers to an acknowledgment that their visual impairment has a profound impact on their functional abilities, beyond the typical challenges faced by those with visual impairments.

Services Offered By The ILVC

When the basic low vision care provided in Optometry and Ophthalmology departments is deemed insufficient for the needs of the Veteran, they may be referred to the Intermediate Low Vision Clinic. The services provided by the ILVC include, but are not limited to:

  • Low Vision Optometry Exam: This is a specialized examination that assesses the extent of the visual impairment and determines the best course of action.

  • Functional Vision Evaluation: This assessment determines how the visual impairment impacts the individual's daily activities and tasks.

  • Therapeutic Instruction: Veterans receive instruction on how to maximize their remaining vision for various tasks, including reading.

  • Lighting And Ergonomic Assessment: The ILVC conducts assessments to determine the ideal lighting conditions and ergonomic setups in the home and other environments. This ensures that Veterans with low vision can function optimally in their surroundings.

Locations

The Intermediate Low Vision Clinic services are available at various locations, including Albany, Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Columbia, Detroit, Fort Harrison, Hampton, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Loma Linda, Madison, Martinsburg, Memphis, Montrose, Ocala, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Sioux Falls, St. Louis, Temple, and White River Junction.

For more detailed information or to get in touch with a specific location, Veterans are encouraged to visit the official VA Blind Rehabilitation Service Website.

Blind Rehabilitation Centers

These are residential inpatient programs that offer comprehensive training to help blinded veterans achieve independence. The training covers areas like orientation, mobility, communication skills, daily living activities, manual skills, visual skills, computer access, and social/recreational activities.

Eligibility Criteria For Blind Rehabilitation Centers

To be considered for the services provided by the Blind Rehabilitation Centers, prospective patients must meet the following criteria:

  • VA Health Benefits: The individual must be eligible for VA health benefits. This also extends to active-duty service members, ensuring they can access the range of services offered by the VA.

  • Visual Impairment: The prospective patient must possess a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with regular eyeglasses. This acknowledges that the individual has a significant reduction in vision which may impact their daily activities and overall quality of life.

  • Excess Disability Designation: Some veterans might receive a designation of excess disability. This refers to an acknowledgment that their visual impairment has a profound impact on their functional abilities, beyond the typical challenges faced by those with visual impairments.

The Blind Rehabilitation Centers offer a holistic approach to rehabilitation, ensuring that each individual's unique needs are addressed. From orientation and mobility training to advanced technological solutions, the BRCs provide a comprehensive suite of services tailored to the needs of each patient.

It's worth noting that the VA is the first and only national healthcare system to seamlessly integrate rehabilitation services for patients with vision loss into its health benefits. This ensures that patients receive the finest medical and rehabilitative care, as well as cutting-edge assistive technology.

Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS)

The Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS) are a crucial part of the Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS) offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Their mission is to assist eligible Veterans and active-duty Service members with visual impairments in developing the skills needed for personal independence and successful reintegration into the community and family environment. These specialists offer a variety of blind rehabilitation services, including assessments, visual skills training, living skills training, and orientation and mobility training.

Eligibility Criteria For BROS Services

To be considered for the services provided by the Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists, prospective patients must meet the following criteria:

  • VA Health Benefits: The individual must be eligible for VA health benefits. This also extends to active-duty Service members, ensuring they can access the range of services offered by the VA.

  • Visual Impairment: The prospective patient must possess a visual impairment. This acknowledges that the individual has a significant reduction in vision, which may impact their daily activities and overall quality of life.

  • Excess Disability Designation: Some veterans might receive a designation of excess disability. This refers to an acknowledgment that their visual impairment has a profound impact on their functional abilities beyond the typical challenges faced by those with visual impairments.

Services Provided By BROS

Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists offer a variety of services, including:

  • Community And Home-Based Assessment: BROS conducts assessments within the community or the veteran's home to determine rehabilitation needs.

  • Goal Development: BROS works with veterans to develop individualized treatment plans based on their specific goals.

  • Interventions And Counseling: BROS provides interventions and counseling to help veterans adjust to sight loss.

  • Environmental Awareness: BROS offers instruction to increase veterans' awareness of their environment and improve safety.

  • Therapeutic Instruction: BROS provides therapeutic instruction on how to maximize remaining vision for tasks such as accessing printed material, financial management, and kitchen safety.

  • Assistive Technology Training: BROS train veterans on how to use assistive technology to address functional deficits resulting from visual impairment.

It's worth noting that Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists are not available at all VHA Medical Centers. Veterans interested in accessing BROS services should contact their local VIST Coordinator, BROS, or speak to their Primary Care Provider for additional information.

Veterinary Care

While the VA does not directly provide guide dogs, they collaborate with agencies that do. These agencies have adapted their training methods and modified breeding requirements to cater to the needs of an older population and those with multiple disabilities.

Vision-Enhancing Devices

The VA is committed to ensuring that visually impaired veterans have access to the technology they need to regain their independence. Approved technology required by veterans is provided by the VA Prosthetics Service at no cost. Additionally, the VA has been a leader in the development of sensory and prosthetic research. Each Blind Rehabilitation Center actively participates in the research, development, and evaluation of devices. As new devices are developed, the VA is among the first to evaluate and implement them.

Rehabilitation And Training Services

Blindness or severe visual impairment can be a life-altering experience, especially for veterans who have already sacrificed so much for their country. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the unique challenges faced by these veterans and offers a range of rehabilitation and training services tailored to their needs.

Visual Skills Training

Visual skills training is designed to help veterans with visual impairments perform everyday tasks. This training focuses on tasks such as reading, writing, cooking, managing medications, and locating and reading signs. By enhancing their visual skills, veterans can regain a sense of independence and confidence in their daily lives.

Assistive Technologies And Devices

The VA provides a range of vision-enhancing devices and technologies to aid visually impaired veterans. These include electronic reading machines, electronic mobility devices, and other advanced technologies. Additionally, veterans receive training on how to effectively use these devices to maximize their benefits. These technologies play a crucial role in helping veterans adapt to their visual impairments and lead independent lives.

Sensory Training And Orientation

Sensory training focuses on helping veterans better utilize their other senses, such as hearing or touch, to compensate for their visual impairment. This training is essential for enhancing their spatial awareness and understanding of their surroundings.

Mobility and orientation training, on the other hand, is designed to help veterans create mental maps of their environment. This training instills confidence in them as they navigate the world, ensuring they can move around safely and efficiently.

Daily Living Skills Development

Daily living skills are essential for independence. The VA offers training to help veterans with visual impairments perform everyday tasks with ease. This includes activities like cooking, cleaning, personal grooming, and managing medications. By mastering these skills, veterans can lead fulfilling lives without constantly relying on others.

Independent Living Programs

The VA offers both outpatient and inpatient services, depending on the needs of the veteran. For those requiring intensive training and rehabilitation, inpatient Blind Rehabilitation Centers are available. Here, veterans live full-time for a short period, receiving comprehensive training and support.

In addition to these services, the VA also offers counseling and group therapy to help veterans adjust to their visual impairment. Recognizing the emotional and psychological challenges that come with vision loss, these therapeutic services aim to provide veterans with the emotional support they need.

Furthermore, the VA emphasizes family-centered care, helping families of visually impaired veterans understand their loved one's challenges and teaching them how to offer the right support.

Frequently Asked Questions

To help you better understand the available services and aid for blind veterans, we've answered some of the most frequently asked questions.

What is the primary goal of the VA's Blind Rehabilitation Services?

The primary goal is to assist eligible Veterans and active-duty Service members with visual impairments in developing the skills needed for personal independence and successful reintegration into the community and family environment.

Are all visually impaired veterans eligible for the BROS program?

Veterans must meet specific criteria, including VA health benefits eligibility and a significant visual impairment, to qualify for the BROS program.

How long can a veteran participate in the VISOR program?

The VISOR program may last up to nine days, providing comprehensive low vision care and rehabilitation services.

Where are Blind Rehabilitation Centers located?

The VA operates several Blind Rehabilitation Centers across the country. It's best to contact the VA directly or visit their website for specific locations.

What services do Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS) offer?

BROS provide a wide array of blind rehabilitation services, including assessments, therapeutic training in low vision, ADL/IADL training, computer assistive technology, and orientation and mobility.

Are there any costs associated with the VA's Blind Rehabilitation Services?

Most services provided by the VA's Blind Rehabilitation Services are covered for eligible veterans. However, it's always a good idea to check with the VA directly regarding any potential costs or fees.

Getting The Best Services And Aid For Blind Veterans

In the face of visual impairments, our veterans deserve nothing but the best support and resources to navigate their daily lives. The Department of Veterans Affairs, through its various programs and initiatives, ensures that these brave individuals receive the comprehensive care and training they need. From medical benefits to rehabilitation and training services, the VA stands committed to enhancing the quality of life for blind and visually impaired veterans. If you or a loved one are in need of these services, reach out to the VA to explore the myriad of opportunities available. Remember, the journey to independence and a fulfilling life, even with visual challenges, is very much possible with the right support and resources.

Discover more opportunities for American veterans by reading our guide on caregiver programs and services for veterans. Visit American Veteran to find comprehensive online resources dedicated to American Veterans.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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