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Veterans & Vision Care Guide: Helpful Resources for Veterans

Researchers say there are about 19 million American veterans, and they make up less than 10 percent of the total American adult population. Some of them came home with injuries that affected their vision. Others developed age-related vision issues over time.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has several robust programs for veterans with vision issues. These programs can help with the following:

  • Screening
  • Rehabilitation 
  • Vision training 
  • Assistive devices 

If you’re uncomfortable using the VA or aren’t eligible, Medicare or private health insurance programs may help fill the gap. Tapping into tools like screen readers and wayfinding apps may help too. 

5 Common Conditions That Affect Veterans 

The age of current veterans is evenly distributed from younger than 50 to older than 70. Because of this age distribution, it’s difficult to make assumptions about the vision conditions they’re prone to. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says veterans face all of the same eye health issues other people do, including the five conditions below. 

Cataracts

More than half of all Americans 80 and older either have cataracts or have had cataract correction surgery. Older veterans may notice blurred, hazy, or dark vision, and they may struggle to read in low light. 

Cataracts are clouded lenses in the eye, and they’re easily replaced in a surgical procedure. Cataract surgery is one of the most frequently performed surgeries in the U.S.

Glaucoma

About 3 million Americans have glaucoma, which is the second leading cause of blindness. Pressure within the eye builds, slowly starving the optic nerve of the nutrition it needs to survive. 

In the early stages of glaucoma, few symptoms appear. But with prompt treatment, people can ensure they protect their vision. Regular eye exams are key to catching it in its early stages.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

Up to 11 million people have age-related macular degeneration. The macula is responsible for clear straight-ahead vision, and when it’s damaged, reading, driving, and other everyday activities become harder.
Therapy options can preserve the vision you have now and keep the problem from worsening. 

Diabetic Retinopathy

People with diabetes struggle with vascular health, and the tiny vessels within and around the eye can also be damaged. When they are, vision can be impaired.

You may not notice issues in the early stages, but some people notice variable vision changes. Treating diabetes can preserve vision. 

Presbyopia

Age causes structures within the eye to stiffen, making it hard to focus on nearby objects. Presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness, is a normal part of aging. Glasses can help.

Services & Resources for Veterans With Eye Conditions

We all rely on our vision to help us handle everyday life. Many of the conditions that impact veterans cause severe vision loss, which can make reading, driving, and even working hard. 

If your vision loss is significant, these three organizations may be helpful:

Hadley

Hadley was founded in 1920 by an educator who lost his vision. His organization offers support and education to anyone with vision loss, and you don’t have to pay for the help.

Your Hadley professional will tailor the help depending on your needs and abilities. Sign up quickly and easily

National Library Services

The U.S. National Library contains a section just for veterans disabled by vision issues. This lengthy web page contains a list of resources, including both federal and private options. 

Learn more about finding a job, advocating for benefits, and more. Visit the page.

Disabled American Veterans

Every year, 1 million veterans get help from Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Get help with disability benefits, education, and employment. Let advocates help you connect with the financial benefits you’ve earned. 

DAV can also help you get to medical appointments. Find out more

The Veterans Administration (VA): How Can You Get Help?

The VA offers plenty of benefits to help people with vision issues. If your charter of discharge is general, honorable, or under honorable conditions, you’re eligible. If you have a different type of discharge, you could petition for enrollment. 

You must apply for VA health care benefits, and the process is relatively quick and easy. Here are a few of the programs you’ll tap into if your application is approved:

Blind Rehabilitation Centers 

The VA maintains 13 Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRCs) across the country. These residential programs are designed to help people adjust to blindness, so they can achieve a realistic level of independence. 

It can be hard to leave your home and family behind, but you might complete this program with the skills you need to move forward with your life. 

Vision Clinics 

Low vision can impact your ability to handle everyday activities. You may be able to see some things, but others elude you. 

Get treatment for these low vision issues at one of two types of clinics:

  • Intermediate and Advanced: The VA operates 22 clinics like this within the United States, and they are designed for more significant low vision problems.
  • Advanced Ambulatory: The VA operates 23 clinics like this, made for people with significant problems that don’t require hospitalization. 

If your VA doctor believes your low vision is best treated by a specialist, one of these clinics could be right for you. 

Vision Impairment Services in Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR)

VA administrators often use clever names for their programs, including Vision Impairment Services in Outpatient Rehabilitation (VISOR). Enroll in this program and get about two weeks of care to help you learn how to handle everyday activities independently. 

Nine of these programs are available. You can access lodging if you don’t live near one. 

Visual Impairment Centers to Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS)

Another program with a clever name, Visual Impairment Centers to Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS), is for veterans with vision loss of 20/70 to 20/200 or worse. 

In this outpatient program, you’ll tap into a team that includes the following professionals:

  • Optometrists
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Therapists

They’ll provide an accurate diagnosis of your condition, develop a treatment program, and offer therapy to help you learn how to live with your disability. Three centers like this are available in the United States. 

Blind Rehabilitation Service 

More than 1 million veterans have vision loss that can’t be corrected by eyeglasses. The Blind Rehabilitation Service is made for them. 

Take home adaptive devices and assistive technology — at no charge — to help you live an independent life. 

VA Vision Care: Understand the Impact

Less than half of all veterans use VA medical services, researchers say. Some people feel uncomfortable connecting with the VA after leaving the service, and others think that they can’t use the VA for issues that didn’t happen to them while they were veterans. Know that if you’re eligible for care, you should use it. 

Nationally, vision problems cost an average of $16,838 per person. You may not be responsible for this entire fee, but your costs for glasses, canes, screen readers, and other technology can add up. And if you need surgical correction for an eye problem, your costs are even higher. 

As many as 16 million people in the United States have undiagnosed or uncorrected vision errors. If costs are holding you back from getting the care you need, the VA could be a good solution. 

Telemedicine: Expanding Coverage for Veterans

While the VA maintains many facilities and clinics across the United States, many veterans don’t have local access. Others struggle to get to clinics regularly due to their poor eyesight. Telemedicine may help. 

The VA uses telemedicine services to connect patients with clinics and medical professionals. As an enthusiastic supporter of telemedicine, the VA is truly leading the way. Many of the appointments that once required a long trip can be conducted from your home or office. 

Telemedicine appointments are especially useful for follow-up exams for glaucoma and macular degeneration. Your VA team can also use telehealth to triage an issue and help you understand if it’s urgent or can wait for a later appointment. 

Support Options for Blind Veterans

While many ocular issues can be addressed with medical care, others cause permanent and irreversible vision loss. About 130,000 American veterans are legally blind. 

These resources may help:

Guide Dogs for the Blind

A trained guide dog can guide you through crowded rooms, help you travel safely, and assist with household issues. Guide Dogs for the Blind offers these canines to people in need at no cost. You’ll get the following:

  • Your trained animal
  • Paid trips to the campus to learn how to work with your dog 
  • Assistance with veterinary care
  • In-person follow-up visits

Guide dogs aren’t right for everyone, and you may have to wait to find the right match. But for many people with blindness, they can be a huge help. 

Blinded Veterans Association

The Blinded Veterans Association maintains the Veterans Service Program (VSP), which can connect blinded veterans with trained staff members. These professionals can help you process claims and get support with benefits. You don’t have to pay for service. 

Insurance Options for Veterans

While the VA remains the best resource for veterans, three other options could help you get medical care, including vision help. 

Medicare

People 65 and older can enroll in the government’s health insurance program called Medicare. This insurance doesn’t cover routine eye exams, but you can use benefits to assist with eye issues, such as these:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts

Private Health Insurance

Anyone can enroll in health insurance regardless of age or employment level. State-run insurance exchanges through the Health Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) give you purchase power. 

Choose the plan that’s right for you and tap into subsidies that make care affordable. Shop carefully, as some plans don’t cover eye health. 

Open enrollment periods are available twice yearly, but you could enroll at any point if you’re facing a difficult life event. 

Employer-Sponsored Health Care

Nearly 155 million people get insurance through their workplace. Your company may pay some or all of the premiums, and you can use your insurance to cover your health care costs. 

Your employer doesn’t get access to your medical records, so your privacy is secure. Ask your human resources manager if a program like this is available to you. 

Other Support Options for Veterans With Vision Issues 

Life with low vision or blindness can be difficult without tools and adaptive devices. While the VA might provide some of these assets, others are available for low or no cost. 

These are a few favorites:

Seeing AI 

This free app from Microsoft works as a personal narrator. Use it to speak text on signs, documents, and products. And allow it to narrate the scenes around you.

Nav Cog

This iPhone app is made to help you explore unfamiliar indoor environments. Select your destination and allow the app to guide you turn by turn.

Screen Readers

Most computers come with a form of screen reader technology. Google Chromebooks, for example, use ChromeVox to help them navigate unfamiliar sites and sounds. You can toggle it on and off as needed for the best browsing experience.

Magnifiers

Some people appreciate handheld magnifiers that amplify printed materials. Newer versions come with lights, so you can read tiny print even easier. Several are available on Amazon.

References

  1. The Changing Face of America’s Veteran Population. (April 2021). Pew Research Center.

  2. Veterans’ Eye Health. (November 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  3. Cataracts. (August 2022). National Eye Institute.

  4. Don’t Let Glaucoma Steal Your Sight. (November 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Facts and Figures. (July 2021). BrightFocus Foundation. 

  6. Traumatic Brain Injury and Sight Loss in Military and Veteran Populations – A Review. (July 2021). Military Medical Research.

  7. Diabetic Retinopathy. (July 2022). National Eye Institute.

  8. What Is Presbyopia? (February 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  9. Welcome to Hadley. Hadley.

  10. Resources for Disabled Veterans. National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. 

  11. Veterans. Disabled American Veterans.

  12. Services and Aid for Blind Veterans. Benefits.gov. 

  13. How to Apply for VA Health Care. (March 2022). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  14. Blind Rehabilitation Centers and Locations. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  15. VA Research on Vision Loss. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  16. Visual Impairment Centers to Optimize Remaining Sight (VICTORS) Program. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  17. About Blind Rehabilitation Service. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  18. U.S. Veterans Who DO and Do Not Utilize VA Healthcare Services: Demographic, Military, Medical, and Psychosocial Characteristics. (January 2019). Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders.

  19. The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Blindness in the United States. (June 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  20. Vision Care Lags, with Blind Spots in Insurance Coverage. (May 2018). NPR.

  21. VA Telehealth Services. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  22. Should You Get Your Eyes Examined Remotely? (January 2021). AARP.

  23. Programs for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Guide Dogs for the Blind.

  24. Veterans Service Program. Blinded Veterans Association.

  25. Get Free or Low-Cost Eye Care. (April 2022). National Eye Institute.

  26. 2021 Employer Health Benefits Summary. (November 2021). Kaiser Family Foundation.

  27. Accessibility Help. Google.

Last Updated October 4, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.