Hagel, Obama, Brown Introduce Bill to Improve VA Services for Blind Veterans
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.
"I am proud to cosponsor this initiative that will strengthen the VA's ability to provide specialty vision care and rehabilitation to our blinded veterans while encouraging more of our students to enter this honorable line of work," said Senator Obama.
"This VA scholarship program will support students seeking degrees in vision impairment and orientation and mobility programs, like the highly regarded one offered at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. One of the under-reported tragedies of this conflict has been the significant increase in eye injuries and vision impairment among our heroic service members. The VA needs more of these skilled professionals to assist our recovering veterans as they learn to lead independent lives. Investing in our heroes' health care is one thing we can still get right about this war," concluded Obama.
"There are 160,000 visually impaired veterans in the U.S. We have a duty and moral obligation to ensure our nation's veterans receive the care and support they need. That's what this bill is about, and I am proud to support it," Brown 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.