Why is VIVA Important For ACB Vets?
by Ellsworth L. "Skip" Sharpe

At last year's ACB national convention in Jacksonville, I was elected president of the Visually Impaired Veterans of America (VIVA). For many years I have wondered how many veterans were members of ACB and were not members of VIVA. I would like to contact these veterans and discuss with them the benefits of VIVA.

VIVA membership helps keep veterans informed of changes in the law and policy of the Veterans Administration (VA). These changes can lead to improvements in benefits for veterans with disabilities that are either service-connected or non-service-connected. And information about these changes is not always published in the media. Several years ago I attended a Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) regional group meeting in Richmond, Va. One of the speakers at the meeting was the director of the unit that evaluated veterans' claims for service-connected disability at the Richmond VA Medical Center. The speaker indicated that the criteria for disability claims for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) had been modified. In the past the only reason service connection was granted for RP was that military service had irritated the eye condition and caused the condition to progress faster than normal. The new criteria will award service connection for RP if the veteran entered the service without RP but had some RP symptoms while he or she was on active duty; it does not have to be diagnosed while the veteran is on active duty.

After hearing the representative discuss the new conditions for awarding service connection for RP, I relayed the information to a very close friend. He was discharged from the military many years earlier because of poor night vision. Loss of night vision is often the beginning of RP. He was able to hold a good job and drive a car for many years after discharge from the military, but eventually became totally blind. I felt that his case fit the new service connection criteria that were stated in Richmond. He filed an application for service-connected disability with the VA. VA officials rejected this application. He appealed this decision and after a year's wait he was granted service connection. He received full benefits including back pay, which dated back to the date he filed his application.

Many veterans who were blind due to conditions not related to their military service are not aware that they can receive benefits from the VA. These veterans are eligible for comprehensive health care, which includes medical care, prosthetics (CCTV devices, computers, braille equipment, etc.), blind rehabilitation, and training on the prosthetic devices mentioned above.

Non-service-connected blind veterans may also be eligible for VA pension, which is a monthly cash benefit given to catastrophically disabled non-service-connected veterans who have a very low income.

VIVA publishes a newsletter several times a year. This newsletter will inform you of VA benefits and any changes in them. I hope you will join us at VIVA in the coming years. To encourage you to join VIVA now, VIVA will charge you for the year 2008 ($15), and you will be a member the rest of this year and all of next year. You will receive all the VIVA newsletters for both years, including the one just released. To take advantage of this offer, send your name, address, e-mail address, telephone number, branch of service, highest rank held, dates of service and a check or money order for $15 made out to VIVA. If you are not a veteran or do not want to include some of the above information, just submit your data without all the information. Please state whether you are a veteran. Send the above items to: David L. Dowland, VIVA Treasurer, 1111 E. 39th St., Tulsa, OK 74105.

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