VA Responses to 66th National Convention Resolutions
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE
66th NATIONAL CONVENTION
BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION'S
ON AUGUST 20, 2011 IN LAS VEGAS, NEVADA,
AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS'
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veteran Association, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada, on this 20th day of August 2011, urges the U.S. congress to enact legislation to fund categorical programs for professional preparation of education and rehabilitation personnel serving people who are severely visually impaired and blind, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that BVA encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Academic Office of Academic Affiliations to further explore new partnering with University Preparation Programs to assure an adequate supply of professionally trained Orientation and Mobility Blind Instructors and Vision Rehabilitation Specialists, and implement PL 111-163 on scholarship support for these critical professional Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists (BROS).
The first resolution requires legislation so the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) can only comment on the second resolution. VA concurs with the second resolution.
VA Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS), the Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA), and the Healthcare Recruitment and Retention Office (HRRO) coordinate closely to ensure an adequate supply of trained blind rehabilitation professionals. OAA has increased paid pre-service internships over the past two years from 67 to 74 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. HRRO has partnered with BRS to provide Technical Career Field post-service internships and actively recruits through providing informational materials and sponsoring a recruiting booth at professional conferences. HRRO has designated Blind Rehabilitation Specialists and Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist as "hard to recruit," thus ensuring that incentives appropriate that status. HRRO staff is working with the Office of Regulatory Affairs to complete required regulations pertaining to Public Law 111-163 before implementing the new scholarship programs. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Director of BRS, as a member of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Division for personnel preparatory programs, ensures that all training programs in the United States for blind and rehabilitation professionals are aware of special programs, internships, and career opportunities within VHA.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada, on this 20th day of August 2011, urges VA to insure that all visually impaired and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including necessary training on essential access technology.
VA concurs, with the caveat that per guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, VA must rely on the employee to request accommodation or training. Once an employee with a disability requests accommodation or training, VA's policy is to respond positively and provide accommodation within 30 calendar days.
VA's Disability Program Manager has been actively working with Information Technology staff to facilitate a faster response to request for accommodation that involves assistive technology. In addition, on November 15, 2011, the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration sent to the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology a memorandum listing several Section 508 issues that need to be addressed so that we can improve the delivery of accommodations. VA has a Section 508 office that provides training to VA employees on software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. The 508 office also provides training on making document and websites accessible. During FY 2011, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) provided training on reasonable accommodation procedures and policy to nearly all of VA's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officers and 2,100 Human Resources (HR) staff at a VA conference. In FY 2010, all managers and supervisors (more than 22,000) completed on-line training on providing disability accommodations and the Senior Executive Service level received training at the conference. On December 6, ODI hosted six hours of training, which included a presentation by a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist. During FY 2012, ODI will provide additional training via teleconference to HR and EEO staff in the field.
VA has a robust disability program page that is used by employees and managers as a resource,http://www.diversity.va.gov/programs/pwd.aspx. We also have an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense's Computer/Electronics Accommodation Program (CAP) to obtain, at no cost, assistive technology, assessments, and training for our employees with disabilities. In addition, VA is unique in that we have a Centralized Fund, which allows us to reimburse facilities for the cost of accommodations not provide by CAP. This Fund is available to all facilities across the country.
At the end of FY 2011, VA had 530 employees who self-identified as blind, up from 524 at the end of the prior year. We have a standing goal that 2 percent of new hires will be people with targeted disabilities, including veterans. Blindness is one of the targeted disabilities so we expect this group to continue to increase. We are also working on retention of these employees and consider timely provision of accommodations to be an essential part of our retention efforts.
VA recently established a new organization, the Veterans Employment Service Office, to assist Veterans in every aspect of transitioning from the military to civilian life, including career assistance. VA continually solicits and welcomes the involvement of the Blinded Veterans Association and all Veterans Service Organizations in helping to identify and smoothly transition service members to civilian employment.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the 20th day of August 2011, asserts that veterans shall not be innocent victims of indiscriminate budget-cutting efforts by attempts to change the method for service-connected compensation for injury and disease connected to performance of duty, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the current line-of-duty approach shall remain as the standard applied to veterans' claims.
VA Concurs. Congress establishes the criteria for the payment of service-connected disability compensation. Any amendment to those criteria requires legislation. The current statutory provisions relating to injuries and diseases incurred in the line of duty are codified at 38 U.S.C. § 105. Essentially, the statute provides that injuries and diseases incurred during active military, naval, or air service, whether on active duty or authorized leave, are deemed to have been incurred in the line of duty unless the injury or disease was a result of the veteran's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the 20th day of August 2011, work with VA to allow BVA Field Service Representatives to access needed medical information via remote access technology.
VA concurs. The Office of Health Information and the Office of Informatics and Analytics, in consultation with the Director of Blind Rehabilitation, agrees with the resolution, which would allow BVA Field Service Representatives access to needed information via remote access technology.
Similar to personnel that gain access to electronic health records, representatives of Veterans Service Organizations such as BVA, will be required to take privacy and security training every 365 days. This annual training requirement ensures that the Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and cyber security guidelines are followed. Representatives are also required to have Power of Attorney, which shall contain no limitation regarding content and time.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the 20th day of August 2011, urge DoD and VA to fully develop the Defense Veterans Eye Injury Registry (DVEIVR) as mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, Section 1623, to develop an effective method of identifying severely visually impaired and blinded service members returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, thus ensuring that these severely disabled service members receive the most appropriate information and support available, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association be notified and directly involved in the "Seamless Transition" process.
VA concurs. Outreach to Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) veterans is actively coordinated through an established process and partnership of Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) Coordinators, Federal Recovery Coordinators, and Case Managers at VA Medical Centers (VAMCs). VHA Social Work Liaisons are located at 18 military treatment facilities to assist transitioning service members with coordination of benefits, services, and referrals. Additionally, military services coordinators and VIST coordinators ensure that benefits and services are provided quickly and as efficiently as possible.
The DoD Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) has established a VA/DoD vision rehabilitation network to facilitate communication with regularly scheduled calls between vision rehabilitation providers at DoD and VAMCs in the National Capital Region. VA has hired and placed several staff at the VCE, including a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist who functions as the VCE Assistant Director of Rehabilitation.
Service members who have been treated for eye injury or have functional loss of vision from trauma are also directly referred to BRS from sources across VA and DoD including. These include Ophthalmology, Optometry, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Care Management and Social Work, VA Prosthetics Service, VHA Polytrauma System of Care, and the Veterans Benefits Administration's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Programs.
BRS and VA OEF/OIF/OND Outreach Offices welcome and continually solicit the involvement of BVA and all Veterans Service Organizations in supporting the identification and transition of service members to VA as seamlessly as possible.