HISTORY OF THE B V A
Established in 1945 by combat-blinded veterans returning from World War II the Blinded Veterans Association (B V A) is a Congressionally-chartered nonprofit Veterans Service Organization (V S O). As such, B V A is the only V S O exclusively dedicated to the needs of America's blinded veterans. Both the United States Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs have tasked B V A with the responsibility of representing blinded veterans and their families before these two respective entities of legislative and executive branches of government.
B V A's Field Service Program is the backbone of the Association. All B V A Field Service Representatives are blinded veterans. They travel throughout the United States finding and counseling blinded veterans and their families. B V A Field Reps act as role models. They encourage blinded veterans to take charge of their lives. They link veterans with services, rehabilitation training, and other benefits they have earned through their military service.
B V A publishes a quarterly newsletter, the B V A Bulletin. The Bulletin is available free of charge and keeps blinded veterans, their families, and blind rehabilitation specialists in touch with the information and events affecting their lives. B V A also provides continuing education scholarships for the spouses and dependent children of blinded veterans.
The Blinded Veterans Association has regional groups (B V A's local subdivisions) across the United States, such as the one responsible for this website, across the United States. Volunteer are always welcome and needed by the regional groups. B V A's Volunteer Service Program augments the Field Service Program. In all, B V A's regional groups provide staff for more than 50 volunteer offices, offering timely mutual support and counseling to blinded veterans in the local community. B V A also encourages the families and friends of members of the Association to join the B V A Auxiliary.
Since the B V A's early beginnings, the organization has worked tirelessly with the now Department of Veterans Affairs (V A) to assure high-quality, comprehensive medical and rehabilitation services/benefits for blinded veterans. When the U.S. Army discontinued its blind rehabilitation services for war-blinded service personnel at the end of World War II, B V A played an instrumental role in persuading V A to assume the responsibility for their care and rehabilitation.
As early as 1947, B V A adopted resolutions in assembled convention calling for the establishment of a comprehensive residential Blind Rehabilitation Center (B R C). The facility would assist blinded veterans in their adjustment to vision loss and acquisition of adaptive skills. Due in large measure to B V A's efforts, the first B R C was inaugurated on July 4th, 1948. As the numbers of war-blinded veterans increased with the onset of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, B V A pressured V A to expand the number of B R Cs nationally. Today, there are ten comprehensive residential B R C's across the V A health care system. As B R C programs grew and evolved, B V A persuaded Congress and V A to expand eligibility for blind rehabilitation services to veterans whose blindness was not the result of their military service. Blinded veterans numbering in the thousands have received rehabilitation assistance as a result of this achievement.
B V A also played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Visual Impairment Service Team (V I S T) Program. Recognizing that the isolating effects of blindness and the fact that blinded veterans were not accessing all the benefits and services for which they were eligible, the Association participated in a pilot outreach program in 1967, the purpose of the program was to identify eligible veterans and encourage them to take full advantage of V A benefits and services. The key professional staff person on the V I S T was the V I S T Coordinator. In the early years, this position was only part-time. B V A quickly recognized that a part time V I S T Coordinator was not adequate to coordinate all of the services required by blinded veterans and urged V A to make these positions full-time. V A responded by establishing six full-time Coordinator positions. B V A persisted in advocating for more full-time positions and convinced congress to provide funding for additional positions. Thanks to such efforts, there are currently, 93 V I S T Coordinators. The work of the V I S T Coordinator has resulted in the acquisition of more than 43,438 names of blinded and visually impaired veterans. These names are on V I S T rolls across the V A health care system as of Fiscal Year 2005.
Also dating back to 1947, B V A has continuously petitioned V A to provide outpatient blind rehabilitation services. The organization was successful in convincing Congress to earmark $5 million in the 1995 Fiscal Year V A Appropriation for Blind Rehabilitation Service (B R S). These dollars enabled B R S to establish to establish 15 Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Service (B R O S) positions. Today that number has grown to more than 35 and, due to B V A's most recent efforts, Fiscal Year 2008 will see the addition of still another 11 new B R O S. The original earmark of $5 million also provided the necessary resources for V A B R S to establish Computer Access Training Sections (C A T S) at the five largest B R C's. C A T S is now provided at all ten B R Cs. Eligible veterans are issued appropriate computer equipment to accomplish their stated goals.
B V A continues to pressure V A to expand its capacity to provide blind rehabilitation services to veterans who are unable to attend one of the ten residential B R Cs. The Association's efforts resulted in a Congressional appropriation of $12.5 million for new blind and low vision outpatient programs in Fiscal Year 2008. The programs will be established at several V A Medical Centers where none of the specialized programs currently exist. Over the next three years, V A will expand blind and low vision services to approximately 54 locations, vastly improving access to services for visually impaired veterans throughout the country.
B V A, along with other major V S O's, convinced Congress to amend federal law expanding eligibility or V A health care. Significantly, contained in this important legislation was language that gave V A, for the first time, the authority to provide guide dogs and mechanical/electronic equipment to veterans whose blindness is not service related.
As an active member and supporter of the Visual Impairment Advisory Board (V I A B), established by the Under Secretary for Health, B V A continues to favor increased capacity for Blind Rehabilitation Services. The hope is that appropriate outpatient rehabilitation services can occur in veterans' homes or local communities when individuals are unable to attend a V A residential B R C. V I A B has most recently recommended the establishment of a full continuum of vision rehabilitation services across the health care system. Adoption of this recommendation will be a major achievement.
For many years, V A was the employer of choice for Bling Rehabilitation Specialists (Orientation and Mobility Professionals and Rehabilitation Teachers). When this dynamic changed, B V A stepped in to play a critical role in convincing V A to reclassify the Blind Rehabilitation Specialist position. The result was a higher salary, improved recruitment, and greater retention for the position, thus restoring V A as the employer of choice and insuring delivery of high-quality, comprehensive services.
On the benefits side of V A, B V A has been instrumental in improving the Disability Rating Schedule as it relates to visual impairment and blindness. At one point, for example, V A did not accurately rate the severity of blindness when combined with hearing loss. B V A's efforts have brought about improvements in this particular rating. Blind and visually impaired veterans are not considered more severely disabled if they have also experienced hearing loss.
B V A also played a leading role in securing Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (D I C) benefits for surviving spouses and dependent children of 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans. Prior to 1978, D I C benefits were paid only when a veteran died of his/her service-connected condition. The change pushed by B V A made it possible for surviving spouses and dependent children to be eligible for D I C benefits, regardless of the cause of death. Still believing that D I C benefits were not equitable because they were based on a veteran's rank while in service and not their disability, B V A lead the efforts for further reform. The Association succeeded once again as the quality of the D I C benefits was improved for surviving spouse and/or dependent children of disabled veterans.
B V A influenced the establishment of the Adaptive Housing Grant, administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the initiation of the Home Improvement and Structural Alteration grant administered by the Veterans Health Administration. Both if the grants have assisted severely visually impaired and blinded veterans in the attainment of affordable housing.
Over the past 62 years, B V A has worked collaboratively with organizations of and for the blind to improve the quality of life for all blind Americans. B V A is represented on a wide variety of federal and state advisory committees within such agencies as the V A Central Office in Washington, the Department of Labor, the Office of Personnel Management, the Small Business Administration, the V A Rehabilitation Research and Development Center, and the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University.
In Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan (O I F/O E F) operations, battlefield medicine has proven to be phenomenal. The medicine of today has greatly enhanced battlefield survivability. With this survivability come increased challenges to meet rehabilitation demands and the ability to assist service members in the transition to post-military life. B V A's objective on this website is to provide useful information to veterans and their families as they adapt to low vision of blindness.