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FRG Newsletter January 2016

The format of this issue is different, as we are starting with a brief history of the Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Program and the significant influence the BVA had on its establishment.

VIST Program: Most of us take the services and benefits for granted and are not aware of all of the work which went into bringing us these services and benefits. Your editor was one of the 11 Blinded Veterans who took part in the pilot project which ultimately led to the establishment of the Visual Impairment Service Program. The following relates that VIST Program History. Most Blinded Veterans (BV's) have had contact with their Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Coordinator for assistance with benefits, rehabilitation training, prosthetics and sensory aids, and independent living. We often take this assistance for granted. However, few BV's are aware of how the VIST Program got started and how it has evolved. In this article your editor will attempt to describe what led up to the VIST Program, how it started and the tremendous changes it has experienced over the last 48 years. To lay a foundation, it is necessary to return to the beginning of the BVA in 1945. Near the end of World War II, when BV's began to return from overseas, Army and Air Force BV’s were sent to Valley Forge Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and Dibble AGH in California and Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard BV’s were sent to the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. It was at Valley Forge that Dick Hoover initiated the long cane technique of mobility. It was also at Valley Forge that the total approach to rehabilitation was implemented. Shortly thereafter, this process was implemented at Dibble AGH and the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. The first step was to help the BV to get his head on straight and acquire skills to make him as independent as possible. When BV's were transferred to Avon Army Convalescent Hospital in Connecticut, BV's were assisted in planning vocational training and for employment in addition to further personal adjustment training. At that time, the VA had no specialized rehabilitation training for BV's and did not plan to establish such programs. It had no Blind Rehab Centers, VIST, or BROS and few prosthetics and sensory aids. Consequently, BV's at Avon started the BVA to advocate for services and benefits for Blinded Veterans. Through the BVA's efforts, President Truman signed an Executive Order in 1947 requiring the VA to establish a Blind Rehab Service (BRS) and provide Blind Rehabilitation Training. As a result, the first Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) was opened at Hines VA Hospital July 4, 1948. The training started at Valley Forge, Dibble, Philadelphia, and Avon was refined and BV's began receiving comprehensive rehabilitation training. When BV’s completed their training at Hines and returned home, there were no VA Staff in the various VA facilities to assist in transferring the skills learned at Hines to the BV’s community. Unfortunately few staff at the many VA medical facilities were aware of the BRC at Hines and many BV's dropped through the cracks. Further, no one at the various VA medical facilities was assigned to learn about services for BV's and provide counseling to BV's at the local level. The early leaders of the BVA worked with the VA BRS to inform BV's of the training at Hines and other rehabilitation services. In the early 1950, the BVA applied for grants to establish a Field Service Program (FSP) to have BV's work with other BV's to assist in their rehabilitation. In 1954 the first BVA FSP was started and BV's were placed geographically and employed to assist their fellow BV's with information, assistance with benefits, and planning for employment. This program provided invaluable assistance to BV's and expanded the contact with VA medical facility staff, thus expanding their knowledge about Blind Rehab and the training at Hines. Unfortunately, the grants which permitted the BVA to operate the first FSP ran out in the late 1950's. The resulting reduction in contacts with BV's made apparent that something had to be done to improve this situation.
In the early 1960's, the BVA and BRS leaders began to work on a plan to educate VA medical facility staff regarding the needs of BV's and of the rehabilitation services available to them. At that time, they contacted the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to join in securing data to justify establishing a program in the various VA medical facilities to provide specialized services to BV's. Robbie Robinson, one of the early BVA FSP Representatives, was then employed as a Social Work Researcher for the AFB. As a result the BVA, VA, and AFB joined in a pilot research project to acquire this data. While a BVA Field Rep, Robbie was located in Florida. As a result, he was familiar with the VA staff and facilities at the VA Regional Office then located in the old Don Caesar Hotel in Pasa Grille. In March 1963, 11 Florida BV's were brought to that VARO and run through a full day of testing, medical exams, and counseling. It was quite similar to the annual VIST review, with the exception of the younger ages of the participants, more emphasis was given to vocational training and job placement. The results of this pilot project were used to initiate an expanded research program at 10 VA facilities around the US. Ultimately 851 BV's completed the research program. In 1966, the BVA and BRS used this data to work with the VA Central Office to start the Visual Impairment Service Program. Initially, both the BVA and BRS leaders wanted to name the program the Blinded Veteran Service program. However, because many veterans, though legally blind, were reluctant to identify themselves as blind. Consequently, Visual Impairment Service was selected as the name of the program. In 1967, the VA Central Office approved the establishment of Visual Impairment Service Teams at 60 VA medical facilities around the US. The VIS Team was composed of individuals from the various disciplines which were involved with the annual VIST Review. The VIST Coordinator was the catalyst who made the program function. Initially the VIST Coordinator was a part time Social Worker. In those VA facilities where the VIST Coordinator was given plenty of time for work with BV's, the program flourished. However, there were too many stations where the VIST Coordinator was only given a few hours a week for Work with BV's. It became apparent that there needed to be full time VIST Coordinators at the VA facilities where there was a large population of BV's. In 1977, with the assistance of Russ Williams BRS Chief, the Florida Regional Group submitted a resolution to the BVA National Convention urging the VA to establish full time VIST Coordinators at all VA facilities with large numbers of BV's in their area. As a result, in 1978 the first full time Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established in Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Cleveland, Miami and New York City. At those 6 VA facilities, there was a dramatic increase in the number of BV's on the VIST roles and the service those BV's received. The BVA used that data to go to Congress and in 1981, 12 additional full times Central Office funded VIST Coordinator positions were established. In 1982, when the BVA Government Affairs Committee net with Dr. Jacoby, Deputy Chief Medical Director, emphasis was placed on the need for additional full time VIST Coordinators. During that meeting, Dr. Jacoby agreed to establish 36 new full time VIST Coordinator positions over the next 3 years. As it turned out, 4 positions were added in 1982, 12 in 1983, 12 in 1984 and the remaining 8 in 1986. Since then, The BVA continued to work with Congress and the VA to establish additional full time VIST positions. Since then, almost all of the VIST positions established around the US were a direct result of the efforts of the BVA. Since the VIST Program was established in 1967, there are VIST Programs at 166 VA stations, with 138 full time and 28 part time VIST Coordinators in the US. The BVA has worked with the Congress, VA Central office, and individual VA Medical Centers and Clinics to expand the VIST program. There are 12 full time VIST Coordinators within the FRG area, more than any other Regional Group. the BVA and FRG will continued to work with Congress, the VA Central Office, and local VA facilities to expand the VIST Program both full and part time VIST Coordinator positions.

FRG Meeting Notice: The next meeting of the Florida Regional Group will be held on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the Hilton Hotel 3600 S.W. 36 Avenue in Ocala. Gainesville VAMC VIST Coordinator Bruce Davis has assisted in making the arrangements for this meeting. The meeting will begin at 11:30 AM with a period of socializing, followed by lunch at noon. For lunch, you may select between: London Broil Marinated Flank Steak Sliced Thin with Sherry Mushroom Sauce or Chicken Cordon Bleu Chicken Breast Stuffed with Ham and Swiss Cheese each Served with Fresh Garden Salad, roasted potatoes, Green Bean Almandine, rolls & butter, Coffee, Iced Tea, and Chocolate Cake. The price of the lunch will be $5 per person including tax & tip. FRG President Mike Taylor will preside at an Informational Meeting following lunch. Information of interest to BV’s and their families and of FRG activities for the coming months will be provided. Join us in Ocala and meet with your fellow Blinded Veterans and have a great afternoon.
The hotel has asked us to notify them as to the number who will be attending and the choice of lunch desired before February 9. Please make your reservations prior to that date by writing to Bruce Davis, VIST Coordinator, VAMC, 1601 S.W. Archer Road, Gainesville, FL 32608, or call Bruce at (800) 324-8387 ex. 5560. You may also call Central East District Director Jeff Ebbers at: (407) 473-5698, E mail You may also call Judy Hayes, Lake City VAMC VIST at (386) 755-3016 ex. 2088. Judy will try to provide limited transportation from the Lake City VAMC to the meeting in Ocala, for BV's in that area. Call Judy if you need transportation assistance.
To get to the hotel, take I75 North or South to exit 350. Go East off of I 75 on State road 200 to the first traffic Light and turn right on S.W. 36 Avenue. The Hilton hotel will be on your right. Free parking is available at the hotel. If you need directions call the Hilton at (352) 854-1400. Do not call the hotel to make or cancel reservations, call one of those listed above.

VIST Coordinator Responsibilities: by Bruce Davis CMSW, Gainesville VIST. When VIST Coordinators complete an initial VIST Review we are asked to determine how well the veteran is adjusting to their vision loss. I like to ask the veteran to rate their emotional adjustment to their blindness on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being in the deepest darkest throws of depression and 10 feeling like the blindness no longer affect you at all and you feel like you can walk on water. Blindness impacts each person differently and how they respond is unique to each veteran. We hope to be able to say that each blind veteran has made a good adjustment to their vision loss. What does the well-adjusted legally blind veteran look like? Over the years I have seen the blind veteran who refuses to let anything stand in their way of resuming a normal lifestyle. They engage in educational and vocational pursuits while being actively involved in sporting activities and other community programs. I have also seen the veteran, who stops living life, retires to their bed and waits for this life to end, allowing others to do everything for them in skilled nursing care settings. These two responses to blindness are certainly on the extreme ends of the scale of good to poor. Most of the veterans I have worked with fall somewhere in between. Our response to adversity often comes from the experience that we have passed through in our life. Many do see blindness as yet another challenge to be faced and overcome while others see it as the loss that restricts their independence. What are some signs that a blind veteran is making a good adjustment to their vision loss? Accepting the fact that they have lost their vision by stopping activities that put themselves and others at risk for harm, for example, driving their car. Taking advantage of blind rehabilitation and low vision services that allow them to do more for themselves. Resuming activities that they may have given up when they first lost their sight. Being willing to share their feelings and experiences as a blind individual with others who are experiencing it for the first time. Knowing when to ask for help to do things that they cannot do for themselves. Blindness impacts every aspect of one’s life. How we react varies greatly based on our life experiences. Some find their way quickly while others take longer to come to grips with their situation. Help is available from your VIST Coordinator, Blind Rehabilitation Specialist, Low Vision staff and the Blind Rehabilitation Center. Support groups can be helpful as you find that you are not the first person to pass this way.

Membership reminder: It is only by joining together that we can make our voices heard by the Nation and Congress. The strength of your voice is needed by The BVA to make Congress and VA listen to the special needs of Blinded Veterans. The recent BVA dues year ran from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015. There was a grace period from October 1 through December31, 2015. If you are a life member you are paid up until perpetuity and never have to pay dues again. If you have been an annual member and have not become a life member or not renewed your dues your status changed to former member on December 31, 2015. We need the support of all Blinded Veterans to continue the work the BVA has done for Blinded Veterans over the past 70 years. Those BV’s who are not presently a member or life member of the BVA will find a membership application and return envelope in the print copy of this Newsletter. Please use it to JOIN THE BVA TODAY. Annual dues are only $15. Better yet, join as a life member, and then you won't have to pay dues ever again. Your life dues go into the LM Fund, the principal of which is never touched. The dividends and interest from that fund are apportioned to the Regional Groups according to the number of life members in the Group. Life dues run from $50 to $100 depending on your age. You may start a life membership with a down payment of $25 with the balance payable over the next 2 years. life dues run from $100 for BV's age 44 and under, $88 for BV's 45 to 54, $75 age 55 to 60, $63 age 61-65, and $50 age 66 and over. Join the BVA and help to continue the work of the BVA for all of us who benefit from the services available to us and to insure that these services and benefits will continue to be available for the Blinded Veterans who come after us. PLEASE USE THE APPLICATION AND JOIN THE BVA TODAY!

FRG Meeting Schedule

February 13, 2016 FRG Meeting Hilton Ocala
March 19 FRG Meeting Tropical Acres Steakhouse in Ft. Lauderdale.
April 28 - May 1 FRG State Convention Plaza Ocean Club Hotel in Daytona

FRG Newsletter Staff
Mike Taylor FRG President
Bruce Davis Gainesville VAMC VIST Coordinator
George Stocking FRG Newsletter Editor