Blind World Magazine

VA Offers Help to Blind Veterans.

December 27, 2005.
The American Chronicle.

Imagine. Imagine what your life would be like if suddenly you were thrown into the dark world of the blind. Imagine that suddenly, you could no longer see the faces of your loved ones, that suddenly you couldn't do your job, pay your bills or even read your mail. Imagine then, that you couldn't drive anymore, look up at the sky at night and see stars, or recognize people you know from across the room. Imagine the frustration that must be felt in this dark world where it's so easy to let self pity and despair lead you around.

Then, imagine that someone hands you the parts to a magic flash light. A flashlight that, once you're taught to assemble, enables you to illuminate life, returning your pride, dignity, and teaches you to navigate it, and appreciate it in new ways. Wouldn't you do what ever it took to put that flashlight together?

This flashlight analogy, as far fetched as it sounds, does a good job of illustrating the degree to which the Veteran Administration's Coordinated Services for Blinded Veteran's has helped me. I speak from experience when I say it's easy to fool people into thinking that coping with this disability is a piece of cake, and that help isn't necessary. But let me tell you, deep inside newly blind people have a whole litany of emotions boiling within them that need to be addressed.

>From feelings of confusion about the future, to feelings of frustration because suddenly they find themselves dependant on others, newly blind people are truly troubled in a way that only caring professionals can help. In fact, they need the kind of help the professionals at the VA offers. Fortunately, This is not one of those highly touted programs that rarely actually works, this is an effective program where visually impaired veterans are invited to come to terms with blindness, and gain piece of mind through adapted living, adaptive equipment and adaptive techniques.

For instance, the veteran can go to a residential facility and learn new ways to perform activities of daily living, such as paying bills, handling medication and money, cooking and cleaning, washing clothes, eating and much much more. They can even teach the veteran to tackle woodworking and other hands on projects. The point here is that they will give the blinded veteran an opportunity to participate in life again.

To make these programs available and accessible to visually impaired veterans, located in many Veteran's Medical Centers and outpatient clinics, is a Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) coordinator. It is the duty of each VIST Coordinator to assist and ensure that visual impaired veterans get the many services for which they are entitled. Each VIST coordinator is a caring person who will be more than happy to assist with filling out forms, enrolling the veteran in rehabilitation and mobility training, acquiring special adaptive devices such as magnifying glasses, talking watches, and Script Talk which provides a means for the blind to dispense their own medications, and put them on a path to living again. In addition, a VIST coordinator will suggest strategies to use in educating loved ones and helping them to cope as well.

I began seeing Mr. Harold Miller, the VIST coordinator at Jackson Mississippi's VA Medical Center about two years ago. Although I haven't gone to rehab training yet, I have received a priceless amount of assistance thanks to him.

I initially went through what's called low vision testing that determined how much useable vision I had, which, in turn helped determine what adaptive lenses or devices would benefit me most. It turned out then that along with some strong glasses, I could read a newspaper if I utilized a powerful lighted magnifying glass. I used these materials to read my mail, and prices of items at the store and for other uses until my eyes worsened and they no longer worked for me.

Responding to my new visual deficit, my VIST coordinator ordered a closed circuit television (CTT) for me . The CTT magnifies materials onto the screen large enough that I can, once again, read the news paper, my mail, and recipes, and even look at photographs which I couldn't see before.

The bottom line, becoming visually impaired is not the end of the world, and it's the job of all the dedicated men and women of the VA's coordinated blind service to convince the recently blinded veteran this fact. They can't help the veteran, though, unless the veteran seeks them out. So put the blind veteran in your life on the path of hope and drive him/her to your nearest VIST coordinator. If necessary, contact the Veterans Administration and get the necessary location information.

Soon after doing this, the veteran's life will seem magically illuminated, and he/she will finally be able to accept that blindness isn't a curse. To that end, after rehabilitation, your blind loved one will not just be functional, but will feel that sense of dignity that comes with once again being in control as one of life's self determining participants.

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