VA Responses to 69th National Convention Resolutions
Resolutions Adopted by the Blinded Veterans Association at the 69th National Convention on August 20, 2014 in Sparks, Nevada.
EXPLORE PARTNERING WITH UNIVERSITIES TO ENSURE AN ADEQUATE SUPPLY OF VISION REHABILITATION SPECIALISTS
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association , in convention assembled in Sparks, Nevada, on this 21st day of August, 2014, 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 cannot comment on the first proviso as it recommends action to be taken by Congress.
VA concurs with the second proviso. The VA Offices of Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS), Office of Academic Affiliations, and VHA Workforce Management coordinate closely to ensure that an adequate supply of trained blind rehabilitation professionals be maintained within VA. Highlights of recent efforts and initiatives include:
- Paid pre-service internships in Academic Year (AY) 2014 remained constant at the level of AY 2013.
- VA has designated Blind Rehabilitation Specialist and Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist positions as "difficult to recruit," resulting in incentives appropriate to that status. VHA Healthcare Retention and Recruitment Office and BRS partnered to provide recruitment information for careers in VHA blind rehabilitation programs: http://www.mycareeratva.va.gov/Careerpath/Pages/JobFamily.aspx?JobFamily=21
- Regulations pertaining to blind rehabilitation scholarships authorized by Public Law 111-163 were signed by the Secretary and published in the Federal Register. The final rule became effective on September 19, 2013. VA anticipates awarding the first scholarships in 2015.
- The Director of BRS reports regularly to the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) division for personnel preparatory programs. This ensures that personnel preparatory programs for blind and vision rehabilitation professionals in the United States are aware of special programs, internships, and career opportunities in VHA. Further, BRS has published two articles in the AER publication about VA's blind rehabilitation programs and job opportunities and routinely hosts teleconference calls with staff of college and university programs to discuss preparation and careers in VHA. Recent years teleconference topics have included:
- Technical career field internship opportunities,
- Hybrid Title 38 qualification standards, requirements and peer-professional boarding,
- Visual Impairment and Orientation, Orientation and Mobility Scholarship Program,
- Access Technology upgrades in VHA,
- Rollout of VA Guide Dog policy.
PROVIDING REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DISABLED PERSONS; EMPLOYING DISABLED PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR SEVERELY VISUALLY IMPAIRED
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association , in convention assembled in Sparks, Nevada on this 21st day of August , 2014, urges DVA to insure that all visually impaired and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including necessary training on essential access technology.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance on Final Regulations Implementing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 in March of 2011. Pursuant to the Amendments Act, the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities shall be construed in favor of broad coverage to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADAAA, and the determination of whether an individual has a disability should not demand extensive analysis. Per this guidance, VA amended VA Handbook 5975 .1, "Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodation from Employees and Applicants with a Disability" in November 2013. Within this VA Handbook, the provisions for providing an accommodation must begin with the employee requesting, orally or in writing, a request for an accommodation. After the request has been made from the employee, the VA has 30 calendar days to implement a reasonable accommodation to the individual with a disability. To this note, VA has increased the use of the Department of Defense (DoD) Computer/Electronic Accommodation Program (CAP) each year since the partnership between VA and CAP has been established. Outside of DoD, the VA is the largest customer CAP services. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, CAP provided in excess of $600,000 in accommodations to VA's employees with disabilities. CAP also conducts live and virtual training to VA employees to educate on the use of their services and the technology of the products they issue.
In addition to CAP, VA has a Centralized Fund that is used to reimburse facilities and Staff Offices for any cost incurred for providing a reasonable accommodation to employees and applicants with disabilities. In FY 2014, VA processed $356,000 in reimbursements through this Fund. This is a reflection of VA's commitment to providing reasonable accommodations.
VA has used many tools to ensure that Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended , is adhered to and to also ensure VA's affirmative action plan to recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities is supported. VA has established goals for hiring and retaining Individuals with Targeted Disabilities (IWTDs); three percent of our hired workforce should reflect IWTDs, and two percent of our workforce should be represented by IWTDs. VA has met and exceeded both goals since October 2013. In addition, during FY 2014, nearly 500 managers, supervisors, human resources professionals, and EEO professionals were trained on the use of the Special Hiring Authority, Schedule A.
VA Learning University (VALU) and the ODI partnered to facilitate MyCareer@VA Day events at three VA facilities: the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Washington, DC), Boston VA Healthcare System, and VA Maryland Healthcare System (Baltimore). The MyCareer@VA Day events included workshops for employees, managers/supervisors and mentors designed to improve one's understanding of career development principles and resources to assist towards career mobility, with much emphasis on diverse groups and IWTDs in GS-9 and below and wage grade positions. This initiative is linked to President Obama's mandate for Federal agencies to identify practices for effectively recruiting, hiring, promoting, retaining, developing, and training a diverse and inclusive workforce. It also supports ODl's Diversity and Inclusion Goals outlined as follows: Goal 1 -A Diverse Workforce: Build a diverse, high-performing workforce ; and Goal 2 An Inclusive Workplace: Cultivate a flexible, collaborative and inclusive work environment. The MyCareer@VA Day initiative consisted of the following events:
- Sessions for all employees that covered: the importance of career planning; demonstration of the innovative tools and resources on MyCareer@VA; how to learn essential skills for the application process (e.g., resume writing, interviewing, job fit). MyCareer@VA Team members worked with employees one-on-one to help them use the MyCareer@VA website, register for CareerPower, and answer any questions.
- Sessions for managers, supervisors, and mentors that focused on fostering more engaged, diverse, and effective teams.
- Participants also had access to either a virtual career development course (Career Power) or a career development workbook, each designed to guide the employee step-by-step through the entire career development process.
During these events, VA directly informed 176 VA employees through the career development sessions and indirectly informed the 8,386 VA employees through distributing facility-wide marketing and communications. Entering the second year of conducting these events, progress has been demonstrated through participant feedback on improved opportunities for career progression.
1 An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.
2 The targeted disabilities,as established by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are blindness, deafness, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, missing extremities, severe intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy and dwarfism.
LINE OF DUTY APPROACH TO VETERANS CLAIMS
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in Convention assembled in Sparks, Nevada, on this 21st day of August, 2014, urge that these veterans not be innocent victims of indiscriminate budget-cutting efforts by attempting to change the method for service-connected compensation for injury or disease to 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 concurs. The law (38 U.S.C. § 105) and VA regulation (38 C.F.R.§ 3.301) authorize VA to service-connect on a direct basis only those disabilities caused by disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. Changing this approach would likely require legislation that VA does not presently intend to request.
FULLY IMPLEMENT VCE DVEIR
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Sparks, Nevada, on this 21st day of August, 2014 strongly urge DoD and VA to immediately and fully implement the mandated joint VCE DVEIVR and that VHA enter the medical, surgical, and rehabilitative clinical records of all OIF/OEF/OND veterans with eye injuries, or with visual system dysfunction, in a manner that will ensure immediate and full interoperability with the existing VCE DVEIVR-entered data to develop best practices, inform clinical policy, guide vision research, facilitate studies and clinical education , facilitate proactive clinical care delivery and care coordination including vision rehabilitation, by providing decision support and patient reports, and by providing trend analysis, population views, benchmarks and quality reporting, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Secretary of VA ensure the funding and staffing necessary for the mandated DVEIVR with full support to meet the requirements and the intent of Congress when it established the Vision Center of Excellence.
VA concurs with the resolution to immediately and fully implement the mandated joint vision registry, the Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry (DVEIVR). VA is collaborating with the DoD to populate the DVEIVR with the clinical ocular and related data of Veterans and Service members with eye injuries and vision dysfunction. VA has implemented measures to harmonize the VA clinical ocular related data with the DoD data within DVEIVR. These measures include using best practices to conduct data abstraction and quality reviews to ensure trustworthiness of the VA data being populated into DVEIVR.
VA concurs with the further resolution to ensure funding and staffing for the Vision Center of Excellence (VCE). To that end, VA has filled all six (6) full-time VA funded positions and has programmed funding for FY15 and planned funding for beyond to provide long-term support for the VCE.
REFER VISUALLY IMPAIRED AND BLINDED VETERANS TO VA BRC'S ONLY FOR COMPREHENSIVE RESIDENTIAL BLIND REHABILITATION SERVICES
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Sparks, Nevada, on this 21st day of August, 2014, urge that visually impaired and blinded veterans be referred only to VA BRC's 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 facility, such non-VA facility should be accredited by either (NAC) the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped or the Commission For Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and which employ Blind Rehabilitation Specialists certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP).
VA concurs that non-VA inpatient facilities receiving blind or visually impaired Veterans referred by VA should be accredited by NAC or CARF, and that blind rehabilitation professionals providing care at such facilities must meet the same qualification standards as VA blind rehabilitation professionals.
VA Responses Part II