Authorizes Scholarship Program for Students Seeking Training in Blind Rehabilitation
U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced legislation today that would help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) meet the increasing demands of today's blind veteran population. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), both members of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, joined Hagel as original cosponsors of the legislation. The legislation directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a scholarship program for students seeking a degree or training in the area of blind rehabilitation. Recipients of the scholarship would be required to work at least three years in the VA system.
"Service members sacrificing for our country in a time of war should be assured that they will receive the best medical treatment and rehabilitation available, without having to wait months or years due to staff shortages. Rehabilitation training for those who have lost their eyesight enables them to function in their surroundings and live more independently. This legislation would encourage students to enter employment in an under-populated medical field, while also serving our nation's veterans," Hagel said.
Between March 2003 and April 2005, sixteen percent of all casualties evacuated from Iraq had associated eye injuries. In the coming years, the blind and low-vision veterans' population is expected to grow by forty percent.
In 2006, a provision in the annual veterans benefits bill expanded the pool of individuals serving our veterans as Blind Rehab Outpatient Specialists (BROS). Today, the VA employs 30 BROS. Unfortunately, there are not enough counselors certified in blind rehabilitation to provide the growing number of blind or low-vision veterans. This has caused a long waiting list for admission at the ten VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers.