by Peter Link, Region V Field Service Representative
VAs benefits program is by far the most complex
benefits program of any federal government agency.
Veterans frequently ask for a "list" of
benefits for blinded veterans. Unfortunately, there is no such
list. Benefits depend on a multitude of factors that include dates
of military service, type of service, length of service, place
of service, injuries or diseases incurred during or after military
service, and changes in the law from the time of discharge to
the present. Family income is also frequently a factor for nonservice
connected pension and medical care.
Brochures and pamphlets regarding veterans benefits can be requested
from the nearest VA hospital. Information about compensation and
pension benefits can be obtained by calling 800-827-1000 from
anywhere in the United States.
The definitions of "blind" and "visually
impaired" used by VA can be confusing. For example, veterans
may hear their physician tell them that they are legally blind.
Almost simultaneously the same veterans might receive a letter
from VA saying: "
your compensation is based on an eye
examination report showing blindness in one eye and impaired vision
in the other," or "eye exam shows vision impairment
in both eyesa higher rate cannot be paid unless you become
blind in one eye or both."
VA does not, therefore, use the definition of legal
blindness in rating vision loss. Being legally blind means 20/200
or less in the better eye with best correction, but VA rates 20/200
in both eyes as a 70 percent visual impairment. When VA uses the
term "blindness" for compensation or rating, vision
must be 20/800 (or 5/200) in one or both eyes with best correction.
If only one eye is 5/200, VA would rate only one eye as "blind"
and the other as "visually impaired."
The scenario becomes even more confusing when veterans speak with
a VA doctor or even a VIST Coordinator who still uses the "legally
blind" terminology. They may be told that they are legally
blind and therefore qualify for blind rehabilitation services
and medical care under VAs catastrophic disability category.
My best advice amid the confusion is to discuss benefits with
BVA Field Service Representatives, all of whom are familiar with
VA benefits for the blind and visually impaired.
Please do not forget that the Blinded Veterans Association
defines blindness for membership purposes as 20/200 or less in
both eyes with best correction, which is the definition of legal
blindness. So, when we say we serve blinded veterans, we are referring
to those who are legally blind in both eyes.
Veterans wishing to discuss benefits with an expert
should call our toll free number, 800-669-7079. Callers should
leave a name and a number if they receive a voice recording and
a tone. Messages will be routed to the Field Service Representative
serving the telephone area code.