VA Responses to 65th National Convention Resolutions
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY
ON AUGUST 28, 2010 IN ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA,
THE BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION'S
65TH NATIONAL CONVENTION
AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS'
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Arlington, Virginia, on this 28th day of August 2010, 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 the possibility of partnering with university preparation programs in order to assure an adequate supply of professional trained Vision Rehabilitation specialists.
The first part of this resolution requires legislation so VA can only comment on the second proviso. The VA Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) partners with Blind Rehabilitation Service to offer 72 pre-service college/university internships through OAA for 2011-12. This represents an increase of 28 percent since 2005-06. The VHA Healthcare Retention and Recruitment Office (HRRO) is working with the VHA Office of Regulatory Affairs to draft regulations that will implement the Blind Rehabilitation Scholarship Program authorized by PL 111-163. In addition, all VA blind rehabilitation professionals are eligible for the Employee Incentive Scholarship and Debt Reduction programs through HRRO.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Arlington, Virginia, on this 28th day of August 2010, urges VA to ensure that all visually impaired and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including necessary training on essential access technology.
VA concurs. On September 17, 2010, VA released an updated Handbook (#5975.1) on "Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodations from Employees and Applicants with Disabilities." In August and September 2010, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) provided training to 90 percent of VA's SES level managers, including a module on reasonable accommodation. In September, VA released a mandatory online EEO and Diversity training for supervisors and managers, which includes a module on disability accommodations. One hundred percent of the supervisors and managers (more than 22,000) completed the training. Additionally, reasonable accommodation training for human resources and EEO staff is scheduled for December 7, 2010. More training will be scheduled in 2011.
VA has a Disability Program webpage that is used as a resource for employees and managers--http://www.diversity.hr.va.gov/disabilities.htm.> We also have an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense's Computer/Electronics Accommodation Program (CAP) to obtain, at no cost, assistive technology for our employees with disabilities. VA's Centralized Fund reimburses offices for the cost of accommodations not provided by CAP.
By 2011, VA will have two employees working full-time on the disability program. We expect to implement an Accommodation Tracking System in mid-2011 that will allow us to track all disability accommodation requests, ensuring that timely and effective accommodations are provided.
At the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, VA had 524 employees who self-identified as blind and more than 11 percent who had targeted disabilities. For FY 2011, VA has a goal that 2 percent of all new hires will be individuals with targeted disabilities. Therefore, we fully expect the number of blind employees to increase. In addition to recruitment efforts, we are also working hard to retain our employees with disabilities, especially veterans. Therefore, providing timely, effective accommodations is a high priority for VA.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Arlington, Virginia, on this 28th day of August 2010, urge DoD and VA to develop a more effective method of identifying severely visually impaired and blinded service members in order that they 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. A process is established through which Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Coordinators partner with the Federal Recovery Program and with Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) case managers at VA Medical Centers to facilitate active outreach efforts. VHA Social Work Liaisons located at 18 Military Treatment Facilities make referrals and assist with the coordination of benefits and services of transitioning service members. Additionally, Military Services Coordinators and VIST Coordinators ensure that benefits and services are provided as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
The DoD Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) has also established a VA/DoD Vision Rehabilitation Network to facilitate communication with regularly scheduled monthly calls between vision rehabilitation providers at DoD and VA Medical Centers in the National Capital Region. VA has hired and placed several staff at VCE, including a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist who functions as the VCE Association Director of the Rehabilitation and Restoration Directorate. To further improve VA/DoD information sharing and referrals for appropriate VA blind and vision rehabilitation services, the first of several VCE Regional Coordination Centers is being established at Madigan Army Medical Center, currently staffed with one physician and approved funding for a vision care coordinator/consultant. VCE has met major milestones to develop the pilot for Joint Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry, which will identify and track the visual clinical services for OEF/OIF service members and veterans for their lifetime.
Blind Rehabilitation Service also receives direct referrals from a number of referral sources assisting service members who have been treated for eye injury or with functional loss of vision from trauma. These referral sources include Eye Care (Ophthalmology and Optometry) and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in both VHA and DoD; VA Prosthetics Service; VHA Care Management and Social Work Service; VHA Polytrauma System of Care; and the Veterans Benefits Administration's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Programs.
VA Blind Rehabilitation Service and the VA OEF/OIF Outreach Office continually solicits and welcomes the involvement of the Blinded Veterans Association and all Veterans Service Organizations in helping to identify and transition service members to VA as seamlessly as possible.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Arlington, Virginia, on this 28th day of August 2010, urge that blinded and visually impaired veterans be referred only to VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers 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, that the non-VA BRC be accredited by either the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC), or the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and that employ Blind Rehabilitation Specialists certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP),
VA concurs partly and with comment. VA makes every effort to ensure that comprehensive blind rehabilitation services are provided across the VA health care system. Some veterans, however, require such services locally due to medical issues, frailty, personal reasons that preclude travel from home, and other valid reasons. In such cases, VIST Coordinators assure that the services provided are of the highest quality, utilizing referral sites that are accredited as stipulated in this resolution whenever possible and practicable to do so. While VA does advocate such standards, it cannot guarantee that every referral site is accredited as stipulated, given an individual veteran's location (especially in rural areas) and personal situations.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Arlington, Virginia, on this 28th day of August 2010, make as part of the agenda to have the VA Veterans Benefits Administration automatically provide certificates of eligibility for auto grant and special adaptive housing at the time of rating decisions, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that such certificates of eligibility be mailed to the veteran at the same time as notification of rating.
VA requires a claimant to submit VA Form 21-4502, Application for Automobile or Other Conveyance and Adaptive Equipment, when applying for the automobile allowance and VA Form 26-4555, Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaption Grant, when applying for the specially adapted housing benefit. VA requires these forms because they solicit responses from the claimant that are essential in determining eligibility to each benefit. VA does not require any subsequent submission, or reapplication, of VA Form 21-4502 or VA Form 26-4555 when a current and completed form for the particular benefit is of record.
Upon receipt of a completed VA Form 21-4502 or VA Form 26-4555, VA makes a decision to determine eligibility to the particular benefit claimed. If a rating decision establishes eligibility to the automobile allowance, VA immediately releases a certificate of eligibility to the claimant upon authorization of the decision. If a rating decision establishes eligibility to the specially adapted housing benefit, VA immediately releases the rating decision to its Specially Adapted Housing Agent for final notification of entitlement to the claimant.
When a VA Form 21-4502 or a VA Form 25-4555 is not of record, VA will still infer potential eligibility to the automobile allowance or the specially adapted housing benefit if a disability rating fulfills the applicable disability criteria. In such a case, VA will notify the claimant of the potential eligibility and request the claimant to complete and submit VA Form 21-4502 or VA Form 26-4555, as applicable, if he or she wishes to apply for the benefit. As the claimant has not previously submitted VA Form 21-4502 or VA Form 26-4555, VA is not requesting the claimant to submit a subsequent application, or reapplication, but simply an initial application if he or she seeks the benefit for which the potential eligibility exists. A certificate of eligibility is not provided upon this notification of potential eligibility as it is not known whether the claimant meets other eligibility factors. Such factors are identified by the claimant's responses on VA Form 21-4502 or VA Form 26-4555.