Ask the Doctor: A Spotlight on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vision Services

Dr. Alexis Malkin

Each month, Dr. Alexis Malkin from the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington’s ®  (POB) Low Vision Learning Center will answer common questions and share information on eye health in our “Ask the Doctor” column.  This month’s column focuses on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the services they offer veterans with vision impairments.

“One of the most influential experiences in leading me to a career in low vision was working with blinded veterans at the West Haven VA Hospital’s Blind Rehabilitation Center. I watched as veterans recovered from car accidents and returned to work as financial advisors and as 95-year-olds with macular degeneration developed the computer skills needed to keep in touch with family and friends.

I worked with veterans who commuted weekly from New York, NY to West Haven, CT to develop independent living skills and with those who could come only as outpatients because they were the primary caregivers for their ailing spouses.

Before this experience, I never imagined the rehabilitation potential for blind and visually impaired individuals. After just three short months, I decided to dedicate my career to low vision rehabilitation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is instrumental in the training programs for many optometrists. I was fortunate to spend nearly two years in various training programs within the VA system, including my time at the Blind Rehabilitation Center as well as in outpatient low vision clinics. Through these experiences, I learned about the extensive low vision services that are provided to veterans. That is what I would like to share with you this month.

The VA low vision services consist of three levels of care:

1.    Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs (VISOR)
2.    Visual Impairment Center of Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS)
3.    Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRC)

The VA also provides home based services using Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists.

The VA works on a continuum of care which provides the most access to veterans and minimizes travel time and cost, both to veterans and to taxpayers.

In most cases, veterans with visual impairments can qualify for VA low vision services, even if the vision impairment is not related to his or her service. The VA works with these veterans to maximize independence, provide visual rehabilitation training and can provide extensive rehabilitation.

Some of these services include:

  • Orientation and mobility training
  • Computer accessibility training
  • Braille education classes
  • Living skills courses
  • Diabetic management courses.

All of the VA low vision centers have low vision specialists on staff, including optometrists, ophthalmologists, vision rehabilitation specialists and orientation and mobility specialists. In most cases, the care is provided to the veteran at low or no cost.

Recent research published in Archives of Ophthalmology describes the Low Vision Intervention trial, which evaluated success of rehabilitation at VA outpatient clinics. This study has served as a model for many private and hospital-based low vision rehabilitation centers because of its success in improving reading ability for veterans with macular degeneration.

Veterans who think that they may benefit from a low vision evaluation and rehabilitation should contact their local VA. They will then be contacted by the Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) coordinator who can help with enrollment in the VA Low Vision Service.”

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