Center offers services that help blind veterans

Blindness and other eye injuries among veterans is not uncommon. Many are able to adapt to life without sight using technology and support from a variety of resources.

The Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines VA Hospital in Maywood is one of 10 facilities that provides services to veterans with eye wounds.

"We offer an inpatient comprehensive program, really designed to give them the skills back that allow them to live an independent and full life," said Jerry Schutter.

Schutter is the service chief.

"Any soldier that loses his vision goes through an application process really because when we get them from Walter Reed or any Army hospital they certainly have to be physically stable because coming into our program," said Schutter.

He says a large percentage of soldiers have lost their visions due to traumatic injury.

"Whether it's due to roadside bombs, any type of projectile weapons, shrapnel injuries," said Schutter.

Twenty-two-year-old Steven Baskis, a member of the U.S. Army was injured on May 13 in Iraq.

"It was, you could say, a roadside bomb, an EFP struck the side of my armored vehicle," said Baskis. "I have no light sensitivity. Shrapnel was the cause mainly it hit the side of my head and other parts of my body, but a certain piece went through the side of my face and took my eyes."

Marine Corps Matthew Bradford got hurt January 2007.

"I basically stepped on an IED like that and took my legs and also my eyes and suffered other little minor damages and stuff through my body," said Bradford.

Both vets came to the rehab center to learn new skills.

"They have a number of classes that we take such as mobility or orientation mobility has to do with just using a walking cane to get around," said Baskis.

"The computer's really good, because I always got on the computer a lot before, the wood working, the measuring skills is pretty cool," said Bradford.

The Blind Rehabilitation Center works with several local organizations including Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind and Visually Impaired.

President Jim Kesteloot says they supply blind veterans with special independent living products.

"Talking watches, talking calculators, white canes, special software that gives speech output for computer magnifiers, special lenses some sixteen hundred products that we supply to blind veterans in all the VA hospital across America," said Kesteloot.

...with hopes that individuals will be using technology for their future. "There'll

probably be vets who wanna take advantage of going back to school," said Kesteloot. "Eventually to get employment where they'll be using the same technology on jobs."

"My biggest goal was to accomplish something in the military, but moving on from there I really want to go to school," said Bradford.

"I want to try and stay in the Marine Corps. I want to go back to Bethesda and do work in the liaison office and talk to injured service men who just got back from Iraq or Afghanistan," said Bradford.

Every year, over 300 veterans are admitted to Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center. They have soldiers from all wars currently in their program.

The Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines VA Hospital
(708) 202-2272

Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind and Visually Impaired
(312) 666-1331