VA Responses to 64th National Convention Resolutions
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY
64TH NATIONAL CONVENTION
THE BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION
ON AUGUST 22, 2009 IN PORTLAND, OREGON, AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, 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 (VISTs) 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 VIST Coordinators.
VA concurs with comment. Funding priorities are determined in the context of overall needs of the Department while ensuring that sufficient resources are provided to accomplish the mission. Positions are filled on the basis of personnel and workload review, and assessment of the staffing model through established workforce management policies and procedures. In 2008-2009, 11 of the 45 sites with part-time VIST Coordinators were provided funding for full-time VIST Coordinator positions. Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS) continues to explore priorities for personnel and identify opportunities for expansion of VIST positions based on personnel needs and workload.
The Director of BRS 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 for BRS that is being finalized will establish the professional boarding process to further ensure that qualified personnel are selected and hired for the VIST Coordinator positions.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, urge 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 can only comment on the second Proviso. The Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) concurs in principle with the desire to ensure that VA participates in the training of Vision Rehabilitation Specialists. However, the proposed resolution is not necessary because VA and the Office of Academic Affairs already participate broadly in training to develop health care providers with expertise in the needs of vision impaired veterans.
In academic year 2008, OAA supported 300 ophthalmology residency positions as well as 201 optometry residency positions. In addition, VA had affiliations with 18 colleges and universities to provide 66 internship trainee stipends annually for Masters-level students to gain supervised practice experiences in VA's Blind Rehabilitation Centers. The FY09 numbers are similar. Therefore, OAA already has made a substantial commitment to this field and carefully monitors the workforce needs of VA facilities in order to plan strategically for the future.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, urge VA to ensure that all visually impaired 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 is committed to furthering efforts that will enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, to include those who are blind. Additionally, VA recognizes its obligation, in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and works diligently to provide effective reasonable accommodation, where required, to its 3,994 employees with severe disabilities, including the Department's 461 legally blind employees, disabled veterans, and future hires.
The Department's reasonable accommodation procedures are currently being revised to incorporate the expanded requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008. Additionally, VA is exploring two initiatives, Reasonable Accommodation Central Funding and a Reasonable Accommodation Automated Tracker Program, both of which will augment our reasonable accommodation program, ensuring that individuals with disabilities have further equal opportunities to be fully engaged and included in VA's workforce.
VA is proud of its record of achievement in veteran employment. Second only to the Department of Defense in both the number of veterans on our rolls and veterans as a percentage of our workforce, VA boasts over 30 percent veteran employment, including more than 8 percent of disabled veterans in our permanent workforce. Between October 1, 2008, and September 30, 2009, VA employed an additional 4,729 disabled veterans.
VA further demonstrated its commitment to hiring veterans, particularly severely injured veterans, by establishing, under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, the Veterans Employment Coordination Service (VECS). VECS provides veterans with valuable information about veterans' special hiring authorities and how to use them effectively to gain employment in the federal government. Additionally, VECS educates hiring managers on the benefits of utilizing special hiring authorities to employ veterans.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, strongly urge the Veterans Health Administration and Congress to do the following: 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 blinded veterans. The testing procedure should include a review of utilization 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.
The Rehabilitation Research and Development Service has an extensive network of investigators in the area of blind and low-vision rehabilitation research. We are grateful for the suggestions of BVA and stand ready to collaborate with BRS in helping to translate research discoveries and innovations into clinical application for the benefit of Veterans.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, work with VA to allow BVA Field Service Representatives to be able to access needed medical information via remote access technology.
Blinded Veterans Association Field Service Representatives who are co-located at regional offices and VA medical facilities are eligible to obtain Veterans Service Organization (VSO) Compensation and Pension Records Interchange (CAPRI) access. VSOs that meet the criteria can obtain VSO CAPRI access by submitting the access request forms located on the VA Intranet. This page also contains a training section for submitting access request forms, Power of Attorney forms, and instructions for using CAPRI. If requested, the VHA Health Information Access Team is available to give CAPRI training through LiveMeeting. The VHA Health Information Access team is currently developing a rollout plan for the recognized VSOs that are located at remote offices. VA is in the process of seeking permission for the VSOs to utilize the Hines Citrix servers to access the CAPRI application.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, urge DoD and VA to develop a more effective method of identifying severely visually impaired and blinded service members returning from OIF and OEF operations, thus ensuring that these severely disabled service members receive the most appropriate information and support available, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association be notified and directly involved in the "Seamless Transition" process.
VA concurs. In 2002, VA assigned a Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to identify visually impaired service members and veterans, and to coordinate and provide direct blind rehabilitation care for them.
Further, VA VIST Coordinators who are geographically co-located with DoD Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) communicate (at least monthly) with the MTF liaisons and Federal Recovery Care Coordinators to ensure seamless transition of service members to VA for vision care. VA works jointly with DoD to implement components of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to 1) establish a Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of military eye injuries, 2) implement a Defense and Veterans Eye Injury Registry; and 3) coordinate care and benefits between DoD and VA.
In October 2009, VA detailed a 0.5 FTEE Blind Rehabilitation Specialist liaison to VCE to assist with identifying service members and facilitating transition to VA for vision care.
The final Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for the registry was approved within VHA (January 2009), detailing requirements for information technology (IT) staffing and registry systems. Planning for staffing, IT solutions, and developing an automated, long-term, solution to populating and maintaining the registry is
VHA and DoD are jointly developing a network of vision and rehabilitation specialists to coordinate and ensure the continuum and availability of care from DoD military treatment facilities to VA in compliance with the requirements of NDAA Section 1623(f) related to Traumatic Brain Injury Post-Traumatic Visual Syndrome (i.e, standardize vision screening, diagnostic evaluation, rehabilitative
management, and research efforts). The Directors of VCE, Blind Rehabilitation Service, and the VCE Blind Rehabilitation Specialist liaison all work closely with the Blinded Veterans Association in identifying and serving service members in need of blind or low vision rehabilitation services.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Portland, Oregon, on this 22nd day of August 2009, assure that visually impaired and blinded veterans be referred to VA BRS for comprehensive residential blind rehabilitation services, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that should it ever be necessary to refer a visually impaired or blinded veteran to a non-VA BRC, the non-VA BRC should be accredited by either the National Accreditation Council (NAC) for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped or by the Commission For Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and should employ Blind Rehabilitation Specialists certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP).
VA concurs with comment. The resolution advocates that blinded veterans be referred only to VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRCs) for services, then subsequently resolves an exception to the preceding resolution. Occasionally, a veteran may require local community-based services due to medical, personal, or psychosocial reasons that prevent him/her from traveling to a VA facility. In such cases, every effort is made to refer the veteran to local accredited facilities (CARF or NAC) and to certified (ACVREP) blind rehabilitation professionals to provide fee-based services. If an individual veteran's location and personal situation does not permit this, the veteran may be referred to a non-accredited agency program or non-certified professional for services. In extenuating cases when this occurs, the VA BRS professional maintains close oversight to ensure that the highest quality care is provided and desired outcomes are met.