As we recently celebrated Veterans Day, now is a fitting time to explore the ways in which we can give back to the brave men and women who have served this country.
Steps to Independence
Whether they’re injured in the line of duty or simply experiencing the effects of aging, vision loss is a common issue for veterans. Any veteran who is legally blind or severely visually impaired may participate in the VIST program if they are eligible for VA healthcare.
First, VIST coordinators evaluate veterans’ level of vision to determine the best services and assistive technology devices to fit their needs. Those experiencing the following may benefit from a referral to VIST:
- Difficulty reading standard-size print even with eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Difficulty performing simple daily tasks — such as managing medications, cooking, making phone calls — due to visual impairment
- Trouble measuring insulin and reading blood sugar level
- Difficulty getting around or seeing steps, cracks, curbs, etc.
The next step in the VIST program is pairing veterans with the proper pieces of technology and providing hands-on training with the devices. Potential aids include but are not limited to:
- Long white cane
- Audible prescription readers
- Talking watches
- Hand and electronic magnifiers
- Large-print computer programs or text-to-speech software
VIST not only assists in issuing these devices, but it keeps track of veterans’ progress with them and it provides replacements when necessary. In other words, veterans’ cases are managed closely. To that end, VIST offers a monthly support group as well as yearly assessments.
During the annual meeting, VIST Coordinator Deanna Austin expands her scope to assess veterans far beyond their vision needs. She also asks about their progress in other areas of the VA Medical Center as well as whether they are receiving all of the VA benefits they require to live as happily and independently as possible.
Enhancing Vision for Veterans
For Austin, the biggest rewards of the VIST program are the inspiring success stories that come out of it. She recalls several veterans telling her how VIST changed their lives.
“One veteran said he was quite the bookworm before he started experiencing vision loss,” Austin said. “After evaluations and training with electronic magnifiers and head-mounted devices, he came to me with tears in his eyes because he was able to read again.”
She also fondly remembers the story of a veteran returning to work as his neighborhood’s trusty bicycle repair man after undergoing VIST training.
“VIST makes a significant impact on lives, from helping veterans simply walk down the street to reviving the hobbies they love,” Austin said.
This work hits close to home for Austin, as she also has vision loss. Her impairment dates back to her childhood, when she had trouble seeing what was on the chalkboard at school. Over the years, she has benefitted from vocational rehabilitation services like the ones she provides through VIST. When Austin moved to Indiana, she began training on bioptic driving, which involves wearing telescopic glasses. She knows what it’s like to navigate the world with vision loss and do seemingly simple things that visual impairment makes much more difficult. During the VIST training sessions, she can relate to the power of overcoming obstacles alongside other people with vision loss.
“The training sessions are so valuable because they allow veterans to be around fellow peers with vision loss and discover what’s possible for them to accomplish,” Austin said. “This training boosts their confidence and empowers them to get out into the community, pursue employment opportunities, seek educational opportunities and engage with life in ways they may not have before coming to the VA Medical Center.”
endorses the VA Medical Center and VIST as well.
“VIST is a huge boon to veterans with disabilities,” said Brian Norton, director of assistive technology at Easterseals Crossroads. “The work they do is vital not only to veterans but to their families as well. They help veterans rise above hurdles, allowing them to build lives they didn’t realize they could have with vision loss.”