October 22, 2012
This tidbit is in honor of blind veterans
and Blind American Equality Day.
The plight of thousands of disabled Civil War soldiers—including those who permanently lost some or all of their sight during that war—brought about one of the most significant changes in American public policy: creation of a Federal national asylum to care for them in 1865. That national asylum, later renamed as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS) in 1873, was the nation’s first system of veterans hospitals for volunteer forces and evolved into today’s Veterans Health Administration.
Privates Anthony Miller (27th Ohio Infantry), George Walter (22nd U.S. Infantry), Patrick Delaney (61st Ohio Infantry), and Joseph Stratton (30th Illinois Infantry) were the first blind Civil War veterans to enter a National Home. They were admitted to the home in Ohio, now known as Dayton VAMC, on March 26, 1867. Private Patrick Delaney, born in Ireland, was 40 years old when he was admitted and lived out the remainder of his life at the Dayton Home. He died on February 6, 1876 and was buried in the cemetery (now a national cemetery) there.
By 1871, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers had grown into a system of four hospital-home facilities and taken care of 4,741 veterans, that year, of which 142 were fully or partially blind. Providing care for such a large veteran population with wide-ranging disabilities presented unprecedented challenges and many experiments or adjustments took place until suitable outcomes were found. On July 10, 1871 John Carr and 26 other blind men at the National Home’s Central Branch in Dayton petitioned the Board of Managers for a porch to be erected at the north end of the hospital, adjoining their ward. Although approval of the porch was not found in the records, this shows that blind Civil War veterans—like their sighted comrades--were uninhibited in making requests to suit their particular needs.
The National Homes were largely self-sustaining operations with all residents, who were able and willing, put to work in some capacity. Several men worked as readers for their fellow blind comrades and some blind veterans were taught skills, such as weaving, to work in various manufacturing enterprises of the homes. According to the 1906 annual report, which reflected the peak year for Civil War veterans at the National Homes, 600 men were listed as blind or partially blind. They were a part of the everyday National Home landscape where it was noted by the Managers that “in the beer hall the blind, the lame, and the feeble, as well as the strong and active, meet on friendly terms and recall scenes and incidents from days gone by . . ..” In the NHDVS’ final year (1930) 87 out of 14,263 residents were blind. The National Homes officially became Veterans Administration homes after July 1930.
With the World War I generation, short term hospitalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training became the preferred model for veterans care instead of lifelong residential care. Vocational training at the Evergreen School for the Blind provided training in Braille and other occupational training to blind veterans and “an analysis of the rehabilitated cases shows that the three most successful employment objectives for the blind have been poultry, massage, and storekeeping. . . the range of employment objectives in which the blind have succeeded, in addition to the above, includes law, osteopathy, teacher, music, piano tuning, broom making, upholstery, and factory operations.” [1924 VB annual report, p. 280] In 1924 a National Training School for the Blind was authorized by Congress for the Veterans Bureau, but sufficient funding never materialized for its implementation.
Benefits for World War II veterans were greatly expanded in 1944 with the G.I. Bill, which included an adaptive housing program for blind, paraplegic, and other veterans with special needs. The use of service dogs came into use around this time. VA underwent a major transformation under VA Administrator General Omar Bradley beginning in 1946, when its medical research and cooperative studies programs took off, resulting in many advances to benefit veterans. By 1950 Hines VA Hospital was the primary center for blind rehabilitation and special sports programs were established at most VA hospitals that included modified bowling and bait casting for the blind. Between 1946-1951 800 blinded veterans were treated by VA.
By 1965 VA provided 50% of the nation’s total clinical training in the field of orientation and mobility for the blind. In 1970, three blind rehabilitation centers were open at Hines, Palo Alto, and West Haven VA hospitals; by 1975 there were five and in 2012 there are 13. The first blind psychiatric clinic opened at Northampton in 1971 and by 1975 a second one was operating at Downey (now known as North Chicago).
Blind veterans have contributed to the nation’s history of veterans care since the Civil War as well as the evolution of American medical history. After participating as members of the Grand Army of the Republic and similar veterans organizations, blind veterans formed their own organizations after World War II, including the Blinded Veterans Association, and they continue to advocate on behalf of veterans blinded due to their military service. VA’s blind rehabilitation programs, annual sports clinics, and other programs along with private organizations such as the Association of Blind Athletes, International Blind Sport Foundation, and others, help teach blinded or low vision veterans new skills to maintain or improve their quality of life.
Story The Blind OLD SOLDIER SAW IT ALL: