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DIALOGUE Visits with the Chief
Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center
As part of our tribute to Walt Stromer and our exploration of services for blinded veterans, we asked Jerry Schutter, Chief of the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center in Hines, Illinois, to share with us information about his organization and the history of services for blinded veterans. Hines was the first blind rehabilitation center in the Veterans Administration (VA), established on July 4, 1948 at the Edward Hines Jr. Hospital located just outside of Chicago. The establishment of the center was a result of an order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt declaring that "no blinded servicemen from WWII would be returned to their homes without adequate training to meet the problems of necessity imposed upon them by their blindness," and a later order signed by President Harry Truman transferring adjustment services for blinded veterans from the military to the VA. Hines receives its funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
From its inception, the mission of Hines has been to enable veterans who are blind to manage their lives as independently as possible and to develop a healthy attitude about blindness. Chief Schutter described it this way: "We have over the years strived to continue to address the definition of a blind center as stated by Russell Williams, the first service chief, who said: 'A Blind Center is where faith is strongest; that blind people deserve hope, respect and freedom. These are accorded first, followed by the means of achieving them. Our civilization permits wholesome living when blind, and here one learns how.'" Indeed, when attending Hines, all veterans are assigned a team coordinator who designs a program to meet each veteran's individual needs and goals. Veterans who participate in the program attend skill development classes during the day and partake in scheduled activities and outings in the evenings and on weekends. A program for family members to learn about blindness and how to best assist in the rehabilitation process is also available. "The unique aspect of our organization is the continuity of services that we are able to offer blinded veterans around the country. An individual may travel from Illinois to Florida and be able to receive like services anywhere in the country. There are currently ten centers like ours that represent a comprehensive rehabilitation program covering all aspects of blind rehabilitation services in a residential environment," Schutter explained. The average stay for veterans at Hines is about eight weeks. Blind rehabilitation outpatient specialists (BROS) are also available to provide specialized services to veterans in their home communities before attending the blind center or upon returning home after training.
While Hines serves veterans of all ages from Vietnam, Korea and more recent conflicts, most of the veterans currently receiving services are in their 70s and 80s, part of the Greatest Generation from World War II. In light of this, blindness is mostly caused by diseases rather than combat injuries. Almost half, or 45 percent, of veterans in Hines programs have macular degeneration. Veterans must be legally blind in order to receive services.
Chief Schutter emphasized that at Hines "every veteran is treated as an individual. The philosophy of the service is to ensure each veteran is accorded a program or receives services that address his or her needs. For the low vision veteran, the examinations and training with various devices may be the top priority. For the totally blind veteran, the orientation and mobility training that may include the use of electronic travel aids and GPS systems may be the top item. The retired veteran who wants to work in his home wood shop, the computer user, the homemaker, all regain the skills that they need to do what they want to."
Long known for its high standards and commitment to excellence, Hines developed a model comprehensive instructional program and refined the white cane technique as part of orientation and mobility training. From the beginning, interest in the Hines program was so high around the country that staff members instructed rehabilitation professionals in blindness programs at agencies, universities, and schools for the blind in the use of the cane. Through its university affiliations, Hines continues to play a significant role in the professional development of blindness rehabilitation teachers and orientation and mobility instructors. With a history of partnering with other organizations including the Blinded Veterans Association, Schutter noted that Hines works collaboratively with other agencies in the field. "Our organization is open to cooperation with other organizations and we do not compete but rather work in an effort to offer services through the best avenue for the individual," he said.
It is little wonder then that the need for the type of services offered at Hines and the other blind centers is growing. The other centers are located in Palo Alto, California; West Haven, Connecticut; American Lake, Washington; Waco, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Tucson, Arizona; Augusta, Georgia; and West Palm Beach, Florida. "The demand for our services, based on current demographics, is expected to continue to grow through the year 2016," Schutter said. He continued: "Based on the increased demand, the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed plans to increase service delivery by opening several new sites for training as well as additional support for local training." When asked what's new and exciting at Hines, Schutter said, "To me, the exciting part of the program is the focus that is being placed on the blinded veteran population right now that is allowing us to address the needs of the veteran more rapidly and in more ways. The instructional staff is always excited about the adaptive technologies that can be added to all the training areas."
Editor's Note: For more information about Hines and the other blind centers that work with veterans, visit www.va.gov. The direct link to Hines is www.va.gov/hinesblindrehab/.