Syracuse VA Medical Center Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Helps Veterans See the Future - Syracuse VA Medical Center
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Syracuse VA Medical Center


Syracuse VA Medical Center Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Helps Veterans See the Future

October 11, 2016

Print Version (MS Word)

Contact: Robert McLean, Public Affairs Officer
Phone: (315) 425-2422
Mobile: (315) 956-1394

Syracuse VA Medical Center Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) Helps Veterans See a Clear Future

When 46 year old Marine Veteran Ronald Baron was making his living as a truck driver he sometimes made deliveries to a non-descript building on Kent Street in Utica, NY.  “I often wondered what went on there and what the company did,” said Ron.  Turns out, he would eventually learn a lot more about the special purpose of that location and the great work that goes on at the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CAVBI).  Ron no longer drives for a living…or for that matter, at all.

Ron Baron graduated from Central New York’s Solvay High School in 1991 and served in the Marine Corps from 1992-1994 as a tanker, spending much of his time assigned to the 8th Tank Battalion on Malloy Road in Mattydale, NY.  After leaving the Corps, he worked as a truck driver for nearly ten years.  Then, one day, he noticed that he was having more and more trouble reading his paperwork.  “When I started having to look at my maps with a flashlight in the middle of the day…I knew something wasn’t right,” he said. 

Ron says that he was initially in denial regarding his loss of vision but deep down he knew something was very wrong.  He became worried about his ability to safely drive his truck and 2013 he lost his driving job.  “I was actually kind of relieved, the last thing I would ever want to do is to hurt someone,” said Ron.  Soon he received a diagnosis that would significantly impact him and his family…wife Val and his daughter Jacqueline 21 and son Justin 22. 
Ron became one of nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. with Retinitis Pigmentosa.  (RP) is a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina—which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. Common symptoms include difficulty seeing at night and a loss of side (peripheral) vision.  For Ron that meant that he was legally blind.

Enter the Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.  As a veteran already receiving some of his care at the VA, the team met with Ron to let him know that, as a legally blinded Veteran, he was entitled to receive all of his care at the VA and that included a wide array of programs and services specifically for his condition.

While Ron was focused on applying for Social Security Disability (SSDI) and the services of the New York State Commission for the Blind, the VA was able to get Ron enrolled in the VA Blind Training Center at the Cleveland VA Medical Center.
The 15 bed center is a regional program, which admits Veterans from all nearby cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. There Ron spent six weeks learning skills of independence with six daily classes.  He received instruction in independent cane travel (orientation and mobility), communications skills (Braille, tape-recording, typing), activities of daily living such as  cooking, cleaning, organizational systems, the use of optical aids for remaining sight and much more.  Ron says that his stay at the Center was a remarkable experience.  “It was a privilege and an honor to be there with other Vets…some from WW II.” 
One of the many skills the Center teaches is how to use a cane to get around.  Ron says at first he was reluctant to use the cane but he is glad he decided to embrace this simple yet very effective method of improving his mobility.  “Before I knew how to use the cane I was always walking around with my head down, trying to navigate safely and other people had to look out for me.  With the use of the cane my head is not down anymore…physically or emotionally,” Ron said.
It’s clear that, with help and support of his family, the many community resources available to include those provided by New York State and the Syracuse VA Medical Center, Ron has accepted his challenging diagnosis with a positive outlook and determination to succeed and overcome.
Last month, Ron went back to work to support his family.  He loves his new job at the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) Syracuse Industries in Liverpool, NY….the CNY location of the organization he used to deliver to in Utica.  He loves his job! And…he no longer has to wonder what they do.  He is a material handler and a part of a manufacturing team that produces examination and surgical gloves for hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
“It has been a pleasure to know and work with Ron. He doesn’t give up and he works very hard.  I feel honored to be able to provide these services to someone who has served our country,” said Nancy Chaffee, Syracuse VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator.   
For more information on Syracuse VA Medical Center services for the visually impaired call 315-425-4381 or visit .
Nancy Chaffee, Syracuse VA Medical Center VIST Coordinator meet regularly with Ron Baron to discuss his progress and ensure that he is getting all the services the VA has to offer for the visually challenged Veteran.