Landmark Legislation To Expand Blinded Veteran Access to Rehabilitation Services


The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) today praised the bi-partisan effort in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to avoid a government shutdown that has also resulted in the passage of key legislation for veterans with vision loss.

The legislation, a Continuing Resolution that extends current government funding levels until December 9, was brought about by seven years of BVA advocacy. It gives the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the statutory authority to provide travel benefits to catastrophically disabled, nonservice- connected blind and visually impaired veterans seeking rehabilitation services at VA facilities. The legislation applies similarly to amputees and individuals with spinal cord injuries.

The original intent of the two bills, introduced in the current 114th congress as H.R. 288 and S. 171 in early 2015, was that Congress amend Title 38, Section 111 of the U.S. Code to extend eligibility for assistance with the cost of travel to specialized rehabilitation centers to veterans whose disabilities are catastrophic but not “service connected”. These bills were introduced by Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA-26) and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).

The aforementioned bills had numerous co-sponsors among both Democrats and Republicans when the Senate bill was incorporated into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations bill passed by the Senate earlier this year. Senator Tester was then able to include the appropriations bill in the Continuing Resolution. This will provide full-year funding for veterans initiatives and military construction projects through September 30, 2017.

BVA Executive Director Al Avina emphasized the significance of the legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama before the end of the week.

"The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Tester for his recognition of the value of rehabilitation services for catastrophically disabled veterans and his commitment to ensuring that those who need such services the most have access to them,” he said. “This legislation will make it possible for a greater number of the brave men and women who have served our country to have access to the rehabilitation and care they need to live full and independent lives again. It fills a vital need in a fiscally responsible manner by reducing the veterans' need for assisted living and nursing home care."

BVA Director of Government Relations Melanie Brunson echoed similar sentiments.

“We owe tremendous thanks to Senator Tester and Representative Brownley for their staunch support for veterans with catastrophic disabilities. Senator Tester’s leadership ensured that provisions allowing VA to assist these veterans with the cost of travel to and from specialized rehabilitation centers were included in the bill passed by the Senate, and remained in the legislation reported out by House and Senate conferees."

For more information about the legislation or how it might impact you, please contact Director of Governmental Relations Melanie Brunson at the organization’s National Headquarters, 202-371-8880, or mbrunson@bva.org.