Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Visual Impairment Team Keeps An Eye on Veterans

September 12, 2002

Visual Impairment Team Keeps An Eye on Veterans

Houston's Visual Impairment Services Team provides visually impaired and blind veterans with assistance and coordination in many health care areas.
by Bill Johnson, HVAMC VIST Coordinator

Released: 2002/09/12

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The Visual Impairment Services program in Houston, located in Room 1B-304 on the first floor near the pharmacy, has grown in the last seven years from an enrollment of 330 patients to approximately 800 legally blind veterans. It is recognized as the fastest growing program in the nation and the second largest overall of the 93 existing VA VIST programs. Above, Bill Johnson, HVAMC VIST coordinator, discusses a vision magnification device with veteran, Arnett Wilson.

Photo by Shawn James, HVAMC Media Section

HOUSTON, TX - Did you know that the estimated number of legally blind veterans will increase by 37 percent from 108,112 in 1995 to 147,864 by the year 2010? The number of legally blind women veterans will double over the next 15 years, from approximately 4,000 in 1995 to some 8,000 in the year 2010? The number of veterans who are legally blind and who also have a hearing impairment is expected to increase by 67 percent from an estimated 29,047 in 1995 to 48,169 veterans by the year 2010?

To understand the impact these numbers have in every day life, recent studies show that severe visual impairment and hearing impairment each may be risk factors for mortality, and together, are a known-risk factor for mortality. Age is the single best predictor of severe visual impairment. Severe visual impairment, in the absence of vision rehabilitation, restricts an individual's activities creating a disability that often isolates the person from family and society.

The Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC) understands the importance of providing visually impaired and blind veterans with direct assistance and coordination in a variety of health care areas. The Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) coordinates a comprehensive program for eligible veterans with serious visual restrictions. Veterans are offered the opportunity to apply for training and services that will increase their level of independence.

Nationwide, there are currently 68,710 veterans eligible for VA's Blind Rehabilitation Services (49,620 based upon service-connected status for vision loss and 19,090 based upon financial need).

The VIST, located in room 1B-304 on the first floor of the HVAMC near the pharmacy, assists with the following health topics: health care, personal and social adjustment issues, VA compensation and pension, orientation and mobility, communication skills, personal management, vocational training, special visual aids, and VA and non-VA referrals.

Veterans from southeast Texas requiring certain types of rehabilitation and training are sent to VA Blind Training Centers in Waco, Texas or Tucson, Arizona. These centers offer unique equipment and services such as low vision magnification devices, basic life skills training, computer training, closed circuit televisions, and mobility and travel skill training.

The Houston VIST program has referred over 110 blind veterans to the VA Blind Training Centers this year alone. HVAMC is the most active VA facility in the nation in terms of blind training referrals and new patients served. In fact, in August, Bill Johnson, the HVAMC VIST coordinator, received a national citation at the 57th annual National Blind Veterans Association Convention in San Antonio for service to blind veterans in southeast Texas.

Supporting the HVAMC VIST program is a team of health care professionals. Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, HVAMC's chief of ophthalmology, heads up the medical team. Other members include the: Laura Seitz, chief of audiology; Angela Bishop, chief of prosthetics; Miguel Ortega, social work practice manager; Michelle Farrow, lead consumer affairs representative; Dr. Jarka Trojan and Dr. Charles Killingsworth, compensation and pension; Manny Lozano, VA Regional Office; and Arnette Wilson, Blinded Veterans Association.

The VIST program in Houston has grown in the last seven years from an enrollment of 330 patients to approximately 800 legally blind veterans. It is recognized as the fastest growing program in the nation and the second largest overall of the 93 existing VA VIST programs.

For more information, contact the HVAMC VIST at (713) 794-7442.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25