by Larry Belote
Larry Belote with President George W. Bush at White House Breakfast (Veterans Day 2005).
Fellow blinded veterans, my term in office is winding down and I am amazed at how quickly two years can pass.
BVA has accomplished a great deal during these two years. I would like to recognize the efforts of our own Legislative Director, Dr. Tom Zampieri. His relentless efforts made the new BROS bill possible. Many new BROS will be added nationally to serve blind and visually impaired veterans in their local communities.
The BROS bill comes on the heels of the new VA Continuum of Care initiative, which ensures the availability of vision rehabilitation services within every VISN and at every VA facility. The goal is more flexibility and standardization of services in the early assistance to and rehabilitation of visually impaired veterans long before they become legally blind.
Impact of Technology
I read the results of a recent study demonstrating that the provision of low vision aids significantly helps prevent depression in visually impaired individuals. The essence of the study’s conclusion was that if clinicians provide the means to restore visual functioning so that a veteran can get back into the mainstream of activities, the self-esteem and quality of life of the individual will increase.
Although the study was very well done, it was not rocket science. The conclusion was, in fact, one of which BVA and every visually impaired veteran were already aware. Because of our now 62 years of work touching this very subject, BVA is as determined as ever to have a positive influence on the future of the services available to blinded and visually impaired veterans.
The capacity to minimize sight loss and restore function is increasing. Science is on the edge of sight restoration and artificial enhancement of residual vision. There are also new scientific breakthroughs on the horizon that only a short time ago would have been purely science fiction.
While life may seem more complicated by the introduction of technology, there are more and more accessible individual tools available to help the blind and visually impaired. A prime example is the cellular telephone, not long ago a technological nightmare for blind and visually impaired users. The advent of speech technology has enabled the cell phone to evolve into a valuable tool. I suspect that Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, smart homes, and other upcoming technological advances will, in the future, become user-friendly in much the same manner as has the cell phone.
Blinded Vets and Future Change
Who are the blinded and visually impaired veterans of the next decade? This is a difficult but still important question. I will try to answer it from my own perspective.
Fortunately, in the next 10 years, we will still have some World War II veterans with us. America’s Greatest Generation consists of many tough individuals who are going to live well into their 90s and beyond. Accompanying advanced age will be health challenges for many World War II veterans. This will require improved and increased services in local communities.
The next ten years will also bring a sizable increase in blinded veterans from the Vietnam era. Some will be relatively healthy but will have lost their sight to an age-related disease. Others will be very ill. Complications like diabetes will have taken a toll over the years on such individuals. They may face critical health complications that will severely hamper their daily life.
The war on terrorism now provides a new generation of combat veterans who have lost vision. Many of them will also need and seek assistance throughout the next decade. For these men and women, the future holds great promise despite the challenges they will face.
The key word for the future is change. Organizations such as BVA, as well as blinded and visually impaired veterans individually and the professionals in the field, must remain open and willing to change. This is always easy to say but very difficult to do. In the face of change, some will tend to fall back on the methods that are best known and proven but that originated in the past. Falling into this trap is often the very obstacle to change that must be overcome.
In promoting the need for changes in methodology and means of reaching goals, I do not deny that there are general principles and values that must not change. A BVA value, for example, is that low-vision and blinded veterans who are otherwise subject to depression and low self-esteem should not miss a beat in going on with life in a productive manner if they are provided with the appropriate tools in the appropriate settings. Such guiding values and principles, part of the BVA success story for 62 years, must never be abandoned.
I am coming to the end of my BVA term as National President. I am also nearing my own professional retirement in the next few years. The changes I have seen are truly amazing and the potential for the future is mind-boggling. May we continue to adapt to the inevitability of change while staying true to the enduring principles that have made us an effective advocate for blinded veterans since 1945.
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