VA Responses to 67th National Convention Resolutions
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE
ON AUGUST 23, 2012 IN GALVESTON, TEXAS,
BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION'S
67th NATIONAL CONVENTION
AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS'
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, 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 Affairs to explore partnering with university preparation programs to assure an adequate supply of professionally trained Vision Rehabilitation Specialists.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot comment on the first resolution, which addresses Congress and requires legislation.
The VA Offices of Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS), Academic Affiliations, and Workforce Management and Consulting coordinate closely to ensure an adequate supply of trained blind rehabilitation professionals are maintained within VA. Highlights of recent efforts and planned initiatives include:
• Paid pre-service internships in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 will remain constant at the same level as 2012.
• Sixty-six technical career field post-service internships will be provided and VA will be actively recruiting by providing informational materials and sponsoring a recruiting booth at professional conferences.
• VA has designated blind rehabilitation specialist and blind rehabilitation outpatient specialist positions as "difficult to recruit," resulting in incentives appropriate to that status. Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Healthcare Retention and Recruitment Office and BRS partnered to provide the information for careers in VHA blind rehabilitation programs (http://www.mycareeratva.va.gov/Careerpath/ Pages/JobFamily.aspx?JobFamily=21).
• Development and completion of regulations pertaining to blind rehabilitation scholarships authorized by Public Law 111-163 is underway. Pending review by the Office of Management and Budget, and public review and comment, VA will complete and publish the regulations and anticipates awarding the first scholarships in 2014.
The Director of BRS—as a member of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) division for personnel preparatory programs—ensures that all personnel preparatory programs for blind and vision rehabilitation professionals in the United States are aware of special programs, internships, and career opportunities in VHA. BRS has published two articles in the AER publication about VA's blind rehabilitation programs and job opportunities; has hosted two teleconferences with staff of college and university programs; and is partnering with the Personnel Preparatory Division of AER to develop regular teleconferences on topics of mutual interest.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, urges VA to ensure that all visually impaired and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including the necessary training on essential access technology.
Per guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) 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 within 30 calendar days.
VA's Disability Program Manager has been actively working with Information Technology staff to facilitate a faster response to requests for accommodation that involve assistive technology.
During FY 2012, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) provided training on reasonable accommodation procedures and policy to many of VA's Local Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators (LRACs). During FY 2013, ODI will provide additional training via teleconference to Human Resources and EEO staff in the field.
VA has a robust disability program webpage that is used by employees and managers as a resource (http://www.diversity.va.gov/programs/pwd.aspx). VA also has 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 its employees with disabilities. In addition, VA is unique in that it has a centralized fund which allows VA to reimburse facilities for the cost of accommodations not provided by CAP. This fund is available to all facilities across the country.
In collaboration with DoD's CAP, VA modified its accommodation procedures to ensure that the appropriate LRAC for the individual requesting an accommodation is included on all CAP requests. The change allows VA to be better informed of its employee's accommodation needs, and to effectively intervene, where needed, to resolve any issue that would impede timely, effective accommodations.
At the end of FY 2012, VA had 532 employees who self-identified as blind, up from 530 at the end of the prior year. VA has increased its hiring goal. VA is striving for 3 percent of new hires to be individuals, including veterans, with targeted disabilities. Blindness is one of the targeted disabilities, so VA expects this group to continue to increase. VA is also working on retention of these employees, and considers timely provision of accommodations to be an essential part of its retention efforts.
VA's Veterans Employment Service Office works 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.
Finally, VA response to Resolution 12-12 also addresses this resolution, specifically in the area of Section 508 compliance.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in Convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, ensure that these veterans shall not be innocent victims of indiscriminate budget-cutting efforts by attempting to change the method for service-connected compensation for injury or disease 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.
Congress establishes the criteria for the payment of service-connected disability compensation, with any amendment to those criteria requiring legislation. Current law (see 38 U.S.C. § 105) provides that VA will deem injuries and diseases incurred during active military, naval, or air service, whether on active duty or on authorized leave, as being 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.
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, work with VA to allow BVA Field Service Representatives to be able to access needed medical information via remote access technology.
Since March 2009, VA's Compensation and Pension Records Interchange (CAPRI) software has been available to the accredited representatives of VA-recognized VSOs for use in accessing VA medical records. Access to CAPRI for VSO representatives not co-located with VA Medical Centers or Regional Offices is now facilitated via terminal server access. For more information on VSO access to CAPRI, see http://www.ehealth.va.gov/CAPRI_for_VSOs.asp or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, urge DoD and VA to develop a more effective method of identifying severely visually impaired and blinded service members returning from OEF and OIF, ensuring that these severely disabled service members receive the most appropriate information and support available, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Blinded Veterans Association be notified and directly involved in the "Seamless Transition" process.
VA concurs with the resolution to develop and maintain an eye injury registry and with ensuring that severely visually impaired and blinded service members receive the most appropriate information and support available. To that end, the DoD/VA Vision Center of Excellence is providing program management for the Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry (DVEIVR) to support more effective prevention, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and disorders of the visual systems. VA supports the Blinded Veterans Association's participation in the seamless transition processes of visually impaired and blinded service members and veterans.
However, VA does not concur with the provision that BVA be "notified" regarding DVEIVR enrollment or the health status of any patient. To do so would be in violation of the Privacy Act, VA confidentiality statute 38 U.S.C. § 5701, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) Privacy and Security Rules, and DVEIVR's approved privacy impact assessment.
BRS and VA Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn Outreach Offices welcome and continually solicit the involvement of BVA in supporting the seamless transition of service members and veterans between DoD and VA.
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, ensure that visually impaired and blinded veterans be referred only to VA BRCs for comprehensive residential blind rehabilitation services, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that should it ever be necessary to refer a visually impaired or blinded veteran to a non-VA facility, that non-VA facility should be accredited by either the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) or the Commission For Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and that employ Blind Rehabilitation Specialists certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP).
VA makes every effort to ensure that comprehensive blind rehabilitation services are provided across VA's health care system. Some veterans, however, require such services to be provided locally due to medical issues, frailty, personal reasons that preclude travel from home, and other valid reasons. In such cases, Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators ensure that services provided are of the highest quality, utilizing referral sites that are accredited as stipulated in this resolution whenever possible and practical to do so. While VA does advocate such standards, it cannot guarantee that every referral site is accredited as stipulated in the resolution given an individual veteran's location (especially in rural areas) and personal situation.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, collaborate with other organizations serving blind and visually impaired veterans in communicating with the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, of the urgent need for all web content within VA agencies, hospitals and facilities to be provided as soon as possible using Section 508 standards for accessible formats, including but not limited to large print, Braille, recorded format, computer disk or e-mail.
In 2012, the Section 508 Program Office (PO) continued its remediation of Electronic and Information Technology (IT), focusing on the Secretary's Major Initiatives and Intranet sites. The Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology emphasized concentration on validating veteran-focused applications and Intranet sites and content. The Section 508 PO currently tracks the top 70 VA websites for conformance. VA is also working with VHA, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration to assist their organizations in achieving conformance.
In 2012, VBA created a cross-functional workgroup to devise methods for blind or visually impaired individuals to receive notice and benefits information in a range of alternative formats, including Braille, large print, audio, and Microsoft Word. In 2013, VBA expects to request IT funding from the Department to implement the workgroup's proposals.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, strongly urge the Under Secretary for Health to require network and facility Directors to rapidly recruit and fill the NPC positions.
Three of the four vacant National Program Consultant positions have been filled, and hiring for the fourth vacancy is pending. Ms. Ella Hart has been hired in Birmingham, Alabama; Ms. Melissa Suess has been hired in West Haven, Connecticut; and Ms. Bobbi Hillen has been hired in Palo Alto, California. The Tucson, Arizona, position has been offered to a qualified candidate.
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Galveston, Texas on this 23rd day of August 2012, urges the VA Secretary to reinstate the Blind Rehabilitation (VIST and BROS) national training program on at least a bi-annual basis.
The Department maintains a robust employee education program that provides training in the latest evidence-based best practices and cutting edge technologies. BRS provided continuing education in 2011 and 2012 that utilized cost-effective strategies such as live broadcast programming, webinars, live meetings, online training, and a targeted, hands-on, train-the-trainer small conference. BRS has requested to hold a national conference in conjunction with BVA for 2014. This request will be evaluated in accordance with the Department's overall strategic needs and goals for large, face-to-face conferences, with regard to comparisons of objectives, effective outcomes, and impact related to cost.