VA Improves Services for Blinded and Low-Vision Veterans

January 25, 2007

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America's Veterans

WASHINGTON - More than a million visually impaired veterans will receive enhanced health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under a reorganization of VA's vision rehabilitation services, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson announced today.

"These veterans, many of whom had their vision damaged by their military service, have earned the best health care America can provide," Nicholson said. "Under this new plan, we can provide all eligible visually impaired veterans with world-class health care closer to their homes."

VA will make approximately $40 million available during the next three years to establish a comprehensive nationwide rehabilitation system for veterans and active duty personnel with visual impairments. The system will enhance inpatient services and expand outpatient services throughout the 1,400 locations where VA provides health care.

Under the reorganization plan, each of VA's 21 regional networks -- called Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or VISNs -- will implement a plan to provide eye care to veterans with visual impairments ranging from 20/70 to total blindness. Basic low-vision services will be available at all VA eye clinics, and every network will offer intermediate and advanced low-vision services, including a full spectrum of optical devices and electronic visual aids.

VA's 10 existing inpatient blind rehabilitation centers will continue to provide the Department's most intensive eye care programs, but each VISN now will also provide outpatient-based blind rehabilitation care.

"We intend to ensure that our visually impaired patients receive appropriate care and the latest technological devices at the right time and in the best setting to meet their needs," said Dr. Michael J. Kussman, VA's Acting Under Secretary for Health. "Our goal will be early intervention, so that we can maximize the independence of these veterans and substantially reduce their dependence on their families and communities."

VA estimates there are more than 1 million visually impaired veterans over the age of 45 in the United States. Within this group, approximately 157,000 are legally blind, and 1,026,000 have low vision. About 80 percent of all visually impaired veterans have a progressive disability caused by age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy.