- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Out of the confusion and chaos prior to World War II and through the Blind Rehabilitation Service’s (BRS) dedicated effort, a centralized model to provide blinded veterans the best state-of-the-art care and rehabilitation was born. The program provided blinded veterans with the ability to apply proven techniques to maximize independence and self-confidence and integrate into society as much as their potential permitted. The first step to rehabilitation is to maximize the effort toward self-sufficiency so that a blinded veteran can contribute to society.

The BRS centralized model, program philosophy and techniques accomplished this mission, resulting in acceptance and adaptation as the worldwide model. In 1968, the Veterans Administration agreed to adapt the BRS centralized model, which relied on well-trained, dedicated rehabilitation staff that provided an individualized program of instruction based on assessed needs of blind veterans. Civilian programs trying to emulate BRS techniques met with limited results because they lacked uniformity and the highly disciplined training methodology required for success.

This coupling of a centralized structure incorporating the firsthand rehabilitation experience of blinded veterans produced a successful uniformity of effort and a BRS program that was always the envy of the world.

Today I am sad to report for the past decade this successful and highly emulated centralization model was discontinued by the VA. As a result, tremendous backlogs of Iraq and other aging blinded veterans with additional health problems are being treated unfairly by a medical model that forces them to wait for rehabilitation. This delay increases rehabilitation wait time and cost, and is frustrating for our blinded veterans.

To continue such a system that supports these adverse impacts is criminal. Don’t we owe the “greatest generation” more than our gratitude? To force the BRS to use an unproven decentralized model has the continuing double effect of forcing our Iraq veterans to wait for treatment and/or having to be trained by unqualified personnel.

Due to lack of centralized oversight, some hospital managers, in a misguided approach to cost savings, have required BRS chiefs to limit time, days and scope of training available to blinded veterans, effectively limiting individualized programs and creating generic and watered-down blind rehabilitation.

Individualized programs were never more critically needed than for our soldiers returning from Iraq with improvised explosive device blast injuries that can result in blindness. The administration must reinstate centralization of the BRS program and appropriately upgrade the position of the director of blind rehabilitation, giving it more authority. Our returning Iraq blinded heroes deserve better. Sgt. Shaft, can you help me correct this gross injustice?

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen H. Miyagawa

Blinded Korean War veteran

Dear Steve:

The powers that be at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wanted to increase the authority of the director of blind rehabilitation as a first step toward centralization. The VA secretary, however, informed me that the executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association did not support this decision. I have been informed that the executive director did this without the knowledge of the BVA board or its members.

This leaves the VA with a dysfunctional Blind Rehabilitation Program. Each of its centers operates with different missions and programs. Visual impairment service team coordinators and blind rehabilitation outreach specialists march to different drummers, leaving services to blinded veterans a demographic crapshoot.

A good example of this is the disparity in the lack of availability of ScripTalk, a talking prescription reader for the visually impaired. The availability of this technology and other services should not be determined on where a blinded veteran lives. I urge the secretary to immediately upgrade the director’s position and to centralize this vital program.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax to 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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