VA Responses to 63rd National Convention Resolutions

RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY
THE BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION

63RD NATIONAL CONVENTION
ON AUGUST 16, 2008 IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA, AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS RESPONSES THERETO

RESOLUTION 2-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona on this 16th day of August 2008, hereby strongly urges the Department of Veterans Affairs to take prompt, positive action to provide funding for full-time Coordinators of all remaining VIS Teams presently not so funded in the Department of Veterans Affairs system, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service, Department of Veterans Affairs Headquarters, should concur in the selection, placement, and assignment of staff personnel filling the positions of VIS Team Coordinators.

VA Comment

VA concurs. VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS) will explore priorities for personnel and identify opportunities for expansion of Vision Impaired Services Team (VIST) positions based on personnel needs and workload review. There are presently 45 part-time VIST positions. In FY 2008, 11 of these 45 sites with part-time VIST Coordinators were provided funding for full-time VIST positions.

The BRS Director currently has input to the selection, placement, and assignment of staff personnel filling the positions of VIST Coordinators through the BRS National Program Consultants. These consultants have oversight of VIST programs and Coordinators and are accountable to the Director of BRS with regard to these responsibilities. The Hybrid Title 38 qualification standard currently in development for BRS staff will establish a professional boarding process designed to ensure that qualified personnel are selected and hired for VIST Coordinator positions.

RESOLUTION 4-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, urges the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to fund categorical programs for professional preparation of education and rehabilitation personnel serving people who are severely visually impaired and blind, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that BVA encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Academic Affairs to explore partnering with University Preparation Programs to assure an adequate supply of professionally trained Vision Rehabilitation specialists.

VA Comment

Current legislative authority provides for VA to fund the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) and Employee Incentive Scholarship Program (EISP). Both programs are accessible to VA employees who desire to train in the Blind Rehabilitation Specialist occupation or to VA employees who are currently in the profession and wish to apply for advanced training.

The VA Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) also participates broadly in training to develop health care providers with expertise in the needs of visually impaired veterans. OAA supports 300 ophthalmology residency positions each year as well as 201 optometry residency positions. In addition, VA has affiliations with 18 colleges and universities to provide 66 internship trainee stipends annually for Masters level students to gain supervised practical experiences in VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Centers.

RESOLUTION 5-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, urges VA to ensure that all visually impaired veterans and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including necessary training on essential access technology, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that VA establish an aggressive outreach program to hire more disabled individuals, especially disabled veterans.

VA Comment

VA is working hard to employ disabled veterans, including those who are blind as well as others with significant disabilities as tracked by the Office of Personnel Management in the Department’s 2007 Disabled Veterans Action plan and Report and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Report on the employment of people with targeted disabilities in the federal government. In FY 2008, the percentage of disabled veterans employed by VA accounted for 7.75 percent of the total employee population.

VA established a national level Veterans Employment Coordination Service to reach out to all severely injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to determine their interest in, and qualifications for, VA jobs. This initiative includes nine regional coordinators working with local facility human resources offices to ensure outreach to this population, and to ensure that local hiring officials are educated about the special authorities for hiring seriously injured veterans.

EEOC issued a report in January 2007 on the employment of people with targeted disabilities in the federal government. Blindness is one of more than nine targeted disabilities that are tracked by EEOC. According to data provided by the EEO in a January 2008 report, VA ranked second among Cabinet-level agencies in the federal government, reporting a rate of employment for persons with targeted disabilities in its permanent workforce of 1.55 percent. As of FY 2008, the total number of blind employees in VA’s permanent workforce was 442.

VA, pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and agency policy, endeavors to reasonably accommodate its permanent employees who experience targeted disabilities. VA has had a reasonable accommodation process in place since May 2002 (VA Directive 5975.1, ìProcessing Reasonable Accommodations Request from Employees and Applicantsî). Through VA’s partnership with the Department of Defense’s Computer and Electronics Accommodations Program, VA employees, several of whom are blind, received a total of $417,432 worth of accommodations in FY 2008. VA continues to work diligently to fulfill the accommodation requests of blinded veterans as well as others with disabilities. 

RESOLUTION 7-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, urges that veterans shall not be innocent victims of indiscriminate budget-cutting efforts that involve attempts to change the method of determining service-connected compensation for injury or disease in performance of duty, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the current line-of-duty approach shall remain as the standard applied to veterans’ claims.

VA Comment

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers line of duty and misconduct decisions in accordance with Title 38 U.S.C., Section 105. This section prescribes that any injury or disease incurred during active military, naval, or air service will be deemed to have been incurred in line of duty, unless the injury or disease was the result of the person’s own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs. Public Law 102-83, enacted on August 6, 1991, was the last legislative amendment to 38 U.S.C. Section 105. VA has not proposed any legislation to change VA’s standing statutory provision regarding line of duty. 

RESOLUTION 11-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, strongly urges the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Congress to instruct BRS to formulate and implement an organized method of researching and testing new technological innovations in the field of blind rehabilitation using actual blinded veterans as part of the test for the viability of training and issuance of the new devices to them. The testing procedure should include review of usage of new technology by agencies and organizations dealing with sight loss outside the Department of Veterans Affairs, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that VHA explore partnering with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Technology Center in Huntington, West Virginia, to achieve the goals outlined in this resolution.

VA Comment:

BRS has implemented an organized process for researching and testing new technological innovations in the field. This initiative will recruit blind and visually impaired veterans to evaluate the viability of new technology, identify training needs, and develop criteria for issuing technology. In FY 2009, 10 new devices that are commercially available will be evaluated in multi-site trials across the nation.

The VA Office of Research and Development’s (ORD) Rehabilitation Research and Development Service (RR&D) has an extensive network of investigators in the area of blind and low-vision rehabilitation research. Researchers at the Atlanta RR&D Center on Vision Loss and Aging have an ongoing collaboration with the AFB Technology Center in Huntington, West Virginia. BRS and RR&D will work together to inform the VA research community of additional opportunities to collaborate in helping to translate research discoveries and innovations into clinical application for the benefit of veterans.

RESOLUTION 20-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, work with VA to allow BVA Field Service Representatives access to needed medical information via remote access technology.

VA Comment

VA is in the final stages of the piloting of Veterans Service Organization (VSO) access to veterans’ electronic medical records at the St. Petersburg Regional Office. The national rollout will begin in February 2009 for VSOs co-located at Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Offices. Access for staff not located in a regional office will be assessed following the successful completion of the national rollout.

RESOLUTION 21-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, request that VA authorize the provision of at least .5 FTEE GS-4/5 clerical support for all full-time GS-12 VIST Coordinators with a caseload of 300 or more blinded veterans and 1.0 FTEE for programs having both a full-time VIST Coordinator with a minimum of 300 caseload and a GS-12 Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist (BROS), and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that VISN Directors be required to provide funding to local facilities to support these positions, and

BE IT FINALLY RESOVLED, that the VIST and BROS Handbooks, and documents pertaining to VIST and BROS, contain language upholding the intent that such support be provided.

VA Comment

VA agrees that sufficient clerical support is needed for the VIST Coordinator and BROS, although prescribing a caseload ratio may be too restrictive and may not ensure adequate support. The support needs vary depending on structure and organization of services. BRS will assess clerical support needs of each VIST Coordinator and BROS in collaboration with the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations and Management. The recommendations for additional clerical support will be made based on analysis and review of workload, with input from the VIST, BROS, and supporting national BRS consultant. It is important to note that staffing models for all new low-vision continuums of care programs included designated clerical support.

RESOLUTION 22-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, partner with BRS to encourage VA to review the staffing levels of nursing personnel at residential Blind Rehabilitation Centers to determine the correct number of nurses needed at each site and to ensure that corrective action is taken at those sites found to be lacking adequate staffing levels, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this be made a national priority for BVA in order to ensure that corrective action is taken by VA if a review reveals that inadequate staffing does exist, and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that this issue be placed on the agenda of the BVA/BRS Strategic Work Group and presented in the annual testimony to Congress.

VA Comment

VA agrees that this needs consideration. The Office of Nursing Services (ONS) has developed a nationally standardized staffing methodology for nursing personnel based on workload review and has established workforce management policies and procedures. ONS and the Blind Rehabilitation Service Program Office will collaborate to assess the nurse staffing model with regard to blind rehabilitation services specifically and will determine what, if any, changes are required. A summary of this assessment will be provided to the BVA/BRS Strategic Workgroup to advise them of the results.

RESOLUTION 23-08

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, on this 16th day of August 2008, urges that BVA meet with top management of VA Ophthalmology and Optometry and with the Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service to encourage the development of a plan of action to train eye care professionals in blind and low vision, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that BVA be a full partner and, as such, be included as a member of a team planning and enacting such training.

VA Comment

VA concurs. The Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service, Director of Optometric Service, and Program Director for Ophthalmology welcome the opportunity to meet with BVA to discuss training of eye care professionals in blindness and low-vision rehabilitation. All parties are stakeholders in the VA Visual Impairment Advisory Board (VIAB) that initially conceived, planned, and developed recommendations for the Continuum of Care for visually impaired veterans.

VA plans in FY 2009 for providing up-to-date training for VA eye care providers, optometrists, and ophthalmologists include:
* A Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS)-sponsored national conference in Las Vegas in February 2009 for the newly implemented outpatient low-vision and blind rehabilitation Continuum of Care clinics.
* BRS funding to selected basic low-vision care clinics to further enhance optometry and ophthalmology education and training programs.
* A positive national VA/DoD conference on sensory impairment (hearing and vision) issues in Traumatic Brain Injury (tentatively scheduled for July 2009).

It is important to note that optometry student and resident training programs and ophthalmology residency programs include low-vision education. Eye care providers and other professionals may also receive training in blind and low-vision rehabilitation from the American Academy of Optometry, the American Optometric Association, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and other professional organizations.