VA Responses to 68th National Convention Resolutions
Resolutions Adopted by the Blinded Veterans Association at the 68th National Convention’s Closing Business Session held August 23, 2013 in Spokane, Washington.
BE IT RESOLVED,that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23d day of August 2013, urges the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to fund categorical programs for the 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 (VA) 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 cannot comment on the first resolution, which addresses Congress and requires legislation. VA concurs with the second resolution. VA’s Office of Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS), Academic Affiliations, and Workforce Management and Consulting coordinate closely to ensure that an adequate number of trained blind rehabilitation professionals are maintained within VA. Highlights of recent efforts and initiatives include:
- Continuation of paid pre-service internships during Fiscal Year (FY) at the same level as FY 2013.
- VA has designated Blind Rehabilitation Specialist and Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist positions as “difficult to recruit,” resulting in employment incentive funding appropriate to that status. The Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) Health Care Retention and Recruitment Office and BRS partnered to provide recruitment information for careers in VHA blind rehabilitation programs: http://www.mycareeratva.va.gov/Careerpath/Pages/JobFamily.aspx?JobFamily=21
- Regulations pertaining to blind rehabilitation scholarships authorized by Public Law 111-163 became effective on September 19, 2013. VA anticipates awarding the first scholarships in 2014.
- The Director of BRS – as a member of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation (AER) of the Blind and Visually Impaired Division for personnel preparatory programs – ensures that all staff who administer personnel preparatory programs to 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. It also hosts teleconference calls with staff of college and university programs to discuss preparation and careers within VHA.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, urges VA to ensure that all visually impaired and blind employees have reasonable accommodations, including 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. It is VA policy to respond within 30 calendar days to a request for accommodation or training from an employee with a disability.
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 2013, 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 2014, 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 (DoD) Computer /Electronic 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 issues that would impede timely, effective accommodations.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, asserts that 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.
The criteria for payment of service-connected disability compensation, including the current line of duty approach, are established by Congress and codified in Title 38, United States Code (U.S.C.). The statutory provision relating to injuries and diseases incurred in the line of duty is currently found at 38 U.S.C. § 105. VA does not presently intend to request amendment of these provisions.
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, urges the U.S. Congress to amend Title 38 U.S.C. section on beneficiary travel requiring VA to pay travel for all veterans meeting the VA definition of catastrophically disabled, and that they be accepted for care in one of the VA Special Disabilities Programs and request that VHA support this changed for catastrophically disabled veterans as legislatively requested of Congress in 2014.
On May 21, 2013, VHA presented and discussed before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health the Administration’s views on a number of bills, including H.R. 1284, introduced by Congresswoman Brownley (identical to S. 633), which aims to provide benefits under VA’s Beneficiary Travel Program (BTP) for the travel of certain disabled veterans to include those with vision impairment in connection with care provided through VA’s special disabilities rehabilitation program.
In his testimony, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert A. Jesse stated:
"VA supports the intent of broadening beneficiary travel eligibility for those veterans could most benefit from the program, contingent on provision of funding, but believes this legislation could be improved by changing its scope. As written, the bill could be construed to apply for travel only in connection with care provided through VA’s special rehabilitation program centers and would apply only when such care is being provided to veterans with specified medical conditions on an inpatient basis or when veterans must be lodged. VA provides rehabilitation for many injuries and diseases, including for veterans who are “Catastrophically Disabled,” at numerous specialized centers other than those noted in H.R. 1282, including programs for Closed and Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, War-Related Injury, Military Sexual Trauma, Women’s Programs, Pain Management, and various addiction programs. In addition, many of these programs provide outpatient care to veterans who might not require lodging but must travel significant distances on a daily basis who would not be eligible under this legislation. Therefore, VA feels that the legislation as written would provide disparate travel eligibility to a limited group of veterans. However, VA does support the idea of travel for a larger group of “Catastrophically Disabled” veterans (including veterans who are blind or who have spinal cord injuries and amputees) and those with special needs who may not otherwise be eligible for VA travel benefits. VA welcomes the opportunity to work with the Committee to craft appropriate language as well as ensure that resources are available to support any travel eligibility increase that might impact upon provision of VA health care."
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, urge DoD and VA to fully implement the mandated joint eye injury registry and develop a more effective method of identifying severely visually impaired and blinded service members returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, ensuring that these severely disabled service members receive the most appropriate information and support available, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Secretary of VA ensure full-time staffing for the National Defense Authorization Act-mandated Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) with continued funding and support in order to meet the requirements and the intent of Congress when it established the Vision Center of Excellence.
VA concurs with the resolution to maintain and enhance, as needed, 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, VA is collaborating with DoD to populate the Defense Veterans Eye Injury Vision Registry (DVEIVR) with the clinical ocular and related data of veterans and service members with eye injuries and vision dysfunction to conduct longitudinal analyses of outcomes. These analyses will support more effective prevention, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and disorders of the visual system by guiding clinical best practices, research, and policy. The process of enrolling service members with eligible eye injuries into DVEIVR was initiated by the VCE in March 2012. To date, the VCE continues to enroll and input the ocular clinical and related data of service members with eligible eye injuries into DVEIVR.
VA concurs with the further resolution to ensure full-time staffing for the VCE. To that end, VA is currently recruiting four additional full-time VA-funded positions to provide long-term support for the VCE. VA expects the hiring actions to be completed early in FY 2014.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23d day of August 2013, that visually impaired and blinded veterans be referred to VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers only for comprehensive resident blind rehabilitation services, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that should it ever be necessary to refer a visually impaired or blinded veterans to a non-VA facility, said 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 concurs in principle. VA makes every effort to ensure that comprehensive blind rehabilitation services are provided across VA’s health care system. However, some veterans 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 and personal situation. This is especially true in rural areas.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23d day of August 2013, request that the VA Veterans Travel Program (VTP) in conjunction with VHA ensures that blindness be included as a justification for VA to authorize transportation to local VA appointments when appropriate by VA mobility personnel and that VA vans, public transportation, DAV vans, or other contracted services be utilized to ensure that all blinded veterans have access to local VA outpatient care and services.
The Veterans Transportation Program, which consists of the Beneficiary Travel Program (BTP), the Veterans Transportation Service (VTS), and the Highly Rural Grants Transportation Program, allows VA in conjunction with the Disabled American Veteran Volunteer Transportation Network (VTN), to assist veterans, including blinded veterans, to obtain transportation to VA health care. VTS, through use of VA vehicles and drivers, provides veterans transportation regardless of eligibility for BTP or other transportation resources.
The concept of mobility management entails making the most cost efficient decisions that support a veteran’s transportation needs. For any trip, a mobility manager would review the veteran’s travel requirements and match them to available transportation options—whether it be public transportation, VTN, BTP (including contract services), or VTS, in order to provide the most appropriate and cost-effective transport.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, collaborate with other organizations serving blind and visually impaired veterans and communicate with the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, to urge that all web content within VA agencies, hospitals, and VBA facilities use Section 508 standards for accessible formats including, but not limited to, large print, Braille, recorded format, computer disk, or email, AND
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that BVA request that funding for Section 508 be separate from other general IT operational funding, and that staffing be increased to address Internet and Intranet sites that require program repairs. In August 2012 VA identified 20 of the most frequented sites used by veterans. BVA requests a timetable to repair those sites and a 508 budget for that process.
In FY 2013, the Section 508 Program Office (PO) continued its remediation of Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) focusing on Intranet and Internet site content as well as applications that provide service to veterans. Throughout the year, the Executive in Charge and Chief Information Officer met regularly with the Section 508 PO to discuss and emphasize the importance of validating veteran-focused Intranet/Internet content and applications. Process improvements and metrics were established to increase efficiency, measure agency conformance, and establish accountability for meeting the agency’s accessibility requirements. The Section 508 PO continues to track the top VA Intranet/Internet sites, increasing this tracking from 70 to 100 websites in 2013. The Section 508 PO is coordinating with VHA, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration to assist VA offices in achieving conformance.
The Section 508 PO added training courses on developing applications using Section 508 best practices, how to use assistive technology for E&IT accessibility, and courses for improving access to web content. In addition, the Section 508 PO provides developers and content providers with numerous tools to facilitate their ability to increase accessibility to applications, webpages, and web content. By providing productivity tools and Section 508-focused training VA IT professionals, the Section 508 PO increases conformance throughout the enterprise. The Section 508 PO continues to measure conformance utilizing enterprise productivity tools and Section 508 training. These functions, in combination with stronger integration of Section 508 requirements into the software design lifecycle, will continue to increase the effectiveness of meeting Section 508 accessibility requirements throughout VA’s enterprise.
The Section 508 PO has continued to work with administrations within VA to create an effective organization that provides access to information and services for all veterans. VA’s Executive in Charge and Chief Information Officer tasked the administrations with providing a plan of action for ensuring access to electronic and IT systems by disabled veterans, to include the ability to complete/utilize any forms or content. The Section 508 PO is also working with the administrations to implement a program to provide effective communications to blind veterans by providing information in alternative formats including Braille, large print, and audio output. In 2013, VA completed the work to document the scope of the business requirements necessary in order to provide communication to blind veterans in a timely manner. In 2014, VA will continue this project and begin to incorporate the business requirements into its benefits systems in order to provide blind veterans with information that is both accessible and current. The Section 508 PO will continue to advise VA regarding this process and work with members of the disability community to ensure that communication to blind veterans is effective.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, strong urge the Under Secretary of Health to require Network and Facility Directors to begin recruitment and training programs for succession of Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators, Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists, and other Vision Rehabilitation staff, and continue to fill the National Program Consultant (NPC) positions.
VA concurs on filling the National Program Consultant (NPC) positions. Three NPC positions were filled in 2012-13, and hiring for the fourth vacancy is pending. Ms. Ella Hart has been hired in Birmingham, Alabama. Ms. Melissa Seuss has been hired in West Haven, Connecticut. Ms. Bobbi Hillen has been hired in Palo Alto, California. The Tucson, Arizona, position (vacated in August 2013) is being prioritized for hire at the Tucson VA Medical Center.
VA does not concur with the proposed requirement that Network and Facility Directors recruit and train Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators, Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists, and other Vision Rehabilitation staff. Such functions are not within the expertise or purview of Network or Medical Center Directors. Recruitment of VA staff is a VHA Human Resources function. VHA provides a variety of incentives for recruitment that include: pre-service internships through the Office of Academic Affiliation, employment incentive funding available to VHA professionals designated as “hard to recruit,” and blind rehabilitation scholarships offered in 2014 through VHA Health Care Talent Management, Scholarships, and Education. Post-service training for Blind Rehabilitation Staff is the responsibility of VHA BRS in partnership with the Employee Education Service.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Spokane, Washington, on this 23rd day of August 2013, urge the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reinstate the Blind Rehabilitation (VIST and BROS) national training program on at least a bi-annual basis.
VA will consider this resolution when determining whether to hold a National Training Conference in 2014. BRS provided continuing education in 2012 and 2013 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 also has a mentoring program that pairs new employees with a seasoned, experienced mentor to assure integration and best practices.