VIST Coordinator Evelyn Cabrera-Heatwole works with a patient at the Richmond VA Medical Center in Virginia.
When I meet blind Veterans for the first time, often the first thing they ask me is, “Do you know my VIST coordinator?” Usually, they go on to tell me some great thing that happened: how their coordinator arranged care for them, solved a knotty problem in the medical facility, helped them get a benefit they were not aware of, helped them and their families through a trying time of adjustment, or even changed their lives. There are also the occasional—but rare—complaints.
“VIST” stands for Visual Impairment Services Team. The VIST coordinator establishes and oversees the work of this team—composed of VA medical and rehabilitation professionals— at a VA medical facility; they work together to ensure that blind Veterans receive good care in their respective VA facilities.
The VIST program began in 1967, and was designed to assure that personal contact is made with each blinded Veteran in the VIST catchment area, to arrange periodic reviews of their medical conditions and needs.
There are currently 164 VIST coordinators in the Veterans Health Administration. They cover more than 200 VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics, and through their caseloads, provide care for more than 50,000 blind Veterans. VIST coordinators are case managers who have the responsibility of coordinating care and services for severely disabled, visually impaired Veterans, as well as for Servicemembers receiving care from VA. The coordinator’s duties include providing and arranging treatment to enhance blind Veterans’ functioning and adjustment. They arrange for Veterans to receive care in VA blind and vision rehabilitation clinics, from specialists who provide care in homes and communities, and from the inpatient blind rehabilitation centers. They inform and educate the family members and significant others of blind Veterans to help them understand the disability of blindness—what it is and what it does—because blindness happens, not just to the Veteran, but to family, friends and the community, too. Additionally, through their role, VIST coordinators provide outreach to locate those Veterans with a severely disabling visual impairment who are not receiving VA care and assist Veterans through counseling and problem resolution. They can also recommend that Veterans be assessed for guide dog services.
Some VIST coordinators are educated and experienced in counseling, while others have their background in blind rehabilitation. Through either of these channels, VA professionals provide very important and needed services; they are there to assure blind Veterans get “the best care anywhere.”
Learn more about VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Services at: http://www.va.gov/blindrehab/.
Gale Watson is the director of VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Service. She has more than 35 years of experience in the field of visual impairment and blindness, including practicing low vision therapy and working as vision rehabilitation manager for the Atlanta VA Medical Center’s ophthalmology clinic in Georgia, prior to becoming Director of the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Service.