The Regular Program consists of four skill areas, Living Skills, Manual Skills, Orientation and Mobility, and Visual Skills. This program is recommended as the starting point for a visually impaired veteran who has not had previous training. Veterans learn the skills to enhance their independence in everyday life.
Veterans can return for the Computer Access Training Program. Each veteran learns to use accessible technology to meet his/her needs, and receives the necessary equipment. This program strives to stay current with ever-changing access technology.
The Blind Rehabilitation Center offers subject-specific or advanced programs in electronic aids for reading, Orientation & Mobility (GPS), visual functioning, and skills to address Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). These programs often include rapidly changing and improving technology.
Each veteran with remaining vision receives a low vision examination. The optometrist may prescribe special lenses or devices and training. Veterans participate in group and individual counseling to develop a realistic understanding of their visual condition. The optometrist works closely with the visual skills staff to monitor each Veteran's progress throughout training. In addition, a low vision outpatient clinic is conducted for legally blind and visually impaired Veterans living in the Chicago area one day per week. Hines BRC Optometry is active in leading Department of Veterans Affairs Research studies focused on improving rehabilitation services for persons with vision loss.
The goals of the Nursing and Medical staff at the Blind Center are to support the Veteran's health, wellness, and independence. Staff assists veterans to fully participate in the Blind Center program. Medical staff is on duty 24/7.
The social worker meets with each veteran to discuss social, emotional and family or relationship issues. Individual and group counseling sessions are offered to address problems such as adjustment to blindness, financial difficulties, housing problems, and family or relationship issues. Education and assistance concerning Powers of Attorney and Living Wills is provided. The social worker coordinates a Family Education Program when indicated by the Veteran's needs and recommended by the team. Family Education may be an in-person visit to the BRC or a conference call. Discharge planning may involve referrals to community and VA services available in the veteran's home area.
The full-time Clinical Psychologist is available to provide supportive counseling and education to the participating veterans. Care is provided though group and individual sessions. Psychological issues related to vision loss are the primary focus but other non-vision concerns may also be addressed. Among these are vocational counseling, memory training, anger management, progressive muscle relaxation, and any other personal or family concern that the Veteran may have. The overall goal is to improve the Veteran's self esteem and return them to a lifestyle that is at least as good as it was before losing vision.
The Blind Center ensures there are plenty of recreational activities for Veterans in the program. These are facilitated by the staff Recreational Therapist. Some examples include golf, bowling, pro sports games, swimming and diving activities, theatre, concerts, Chicago museums, and boat-tours. Many volunteers and service organizations provide entertainment and refreshments on evenings and weekends. All of these activities encourage camaraderie between the veterans.
The Visual Impairment Services Team Program (VIST) assists Veterans whose vision loss impacts their activities of daily living, and helps the Veterans and their families cope with the functional and emotional issues associated with vision loss. The program objectives are: to identify and inform eligible Veterans about services and benefits; to ensure that health care and rehabilitation services to these Veterans are made available; and to help them cope with vision loss. Patrick Zeinstra, VIST Coordinator, (708) 202-2351
Service members injured in combat may face multiple challenges such as memory difficulties, amputations, mental health issues, and vision problems. The Polytrauma BROS completes vision screenings for each returning service member. The BROS then provides any necessary training in vision therapy. As part of the Hines Polytrauma Team, the Blind Center continues to be a resource to much of the country.