January 20, 2016

VAPAHCS Notes National Glaucoma Awarness Month

Photo: A VAPAHCS Optometrist completes an eye exam with a Veteran
The VAPAHCS Website noted National Glaucoma Awareness Month this January, which is the best time to remind all Veterans to take preventative measures to maintain good eye health. 

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. As one of the leading causes of blindness, glaucoma affects more than three million people in America and more than 280,000 Veterans. It is also known as the "sneaky thief of sight" because a person may not be aware that they have glaucoma and have lost a significant amount of vision irreversibly before they are diagnosed and treated.

What is glaucoma?

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause progressive and irreversible damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is similar to a cable with millions of connections, carrying images from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma can gradually steal sight without warning. Characteristically, the loss of vision is in the peripheral vision, but if untreated and uncontrolled, the vision loss progresses to “tunnel-vision,” and can lead to total loss of vision in end-stage glaucoma.

There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. They are determined by the anatomy of the patient’s eye and treatment is dependent on the type of glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma is the result of another disease that causes or contributes to increased eye pressure that may damage the optic nerve.

Regular Eye Screening is Important

Dr. Patricia Ferrell, an ophthalmologist who specializes in glaucoma treatment at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, recommends everyone to have your eyes screened regularly, especially if you are at high risk for glaucoma. High risks include a family history of glaucoma, being African-American, and aging. “Having your eyes dilated is an important part of your eye exam, which can help to detect glaucoma early,” says Dr. Ferrell.

While more common among older adults, glaucoma can occur at any age for various genetics or disease-related reasons or from trauma. Early diagnosis and good follow-up in those who have glaucoma or are suspected of having glaucoma are key ways to maintaining vision and preventing permanent loss of vision from glaucoma.

How Does VAPAHCS Contribute to Glaucoma Awareness and Treatment? 

VAPAHCS offers glaucoma treatment along with general and other specialized care within Optometry and Ophthalmology services. 
According to Dr. Ferrell, the VAPAHCS services are able to provide full care for the various types of glaucoma. This can be difficult for patients dependent on the private sector to obtain due to costs. However, at VAPAHCS, treatment options are available to the Veteran without worrying if the patient can afford them. This is usually true for many VAPAHCS services because issues of dealing with insurance companies or copays are either minimal or non-existent for most Veterans. 

What Services Are Available if I do have Vision Loss?

If you are a Veteran or Active Duty Service Member who has Glaucoma or any type of vision loss, the VA has a variety of vision rehabilitation services available.  The first step is to contact a Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Coordinator to see what services and benefits are the best fit for you and your needs.  The Palo Alto VIST Coordinator, Elizabeth Silowitz, is available by phone at 650-852-3431. 

One of the services provided to visually impaired individuals is the Annual VIST Review. This is a yearly examination to assess the Veteran's adjustment to sight loss, current vision, hearing, and health. Based on information collected during the VIST review, Veterans may be referred for training and/or services to address their needs. The Palo Alto VIST Program also offers benefit reviews, support groups, community activities, and presentations to agencies regarding vision loss. For individuals who have experienced vision loss due to a brain injury or stroke, the Palo Alto Polytrauma VIST program provides referrals to specialty training programs to address vision loss caused by brain injury.
Many of the rehabilitation programs offered at the VA assess, train, and issue to Veterans with vision loss adaptive items which may include magnification devices, a large print or talking computer system, adaptive technology, canes, watches, talking paper currency identifiers, audible prescription readers, and adapted recreational equipment and both inpatient and outpatient treatment is available.
Referral Services
Referrals for services may include, but are not limited to:
  • VA Inpatient Blind Rehabilitation Training (WBRC)
  • VA outpatient services (VICTORS & BROS)
  • Comprehensive Neurological Vision Rehabilitation (CNVR)
  • Low Vision Services
  • Adapted Computer Technology Training
  • Community/State Agencies
  • Library of Congress Talking Book Program
  • Paratransit Services
  • Adapted Recreational Programs
CLICK HERE to learn more about VIST

CLICK HERE to learn more about the WBRC

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