Talking Prescriptions Help Veterans

Doctors at the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center estimate there are more than 1,000 blind veterans in Southeast Texas. The Houston VA is distributing new technology to help those patients.

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Blind veterans can receive a variety of services from the VA Hospital. Bill Johnson is the visual impairment services coordinator. He says they train veterans to walk to the store, use public buses, cook meals and even read printed materials.

"What this really is all about is increasing self-esteem, because when you've lost your vision, that is a traumatic, catastrophic event. So when someone loses their vision, they have to go through a process of figuring out how to do these things without sight."

Most of the blind veterans at the VA are legally blind, but still have some sight. They suffer from macular degeneration, glaucoma, and sometimes war injuries that leave them with little or no vision. One of the most important services available for them is a technology called ScripTalk. It's a small, hand-held device that scans prescription labels. It only works with special labels generated by the VA Hospital pharmacy. But the bottles look exactly like any other prescription, you can't tell the difference until you use the ScripTalk monitor.

"And the veteran is simply going to press this button here, and you can see it's sort of got a Braille bump on it. Basically, you can turn this off at any point, but this now will read everything that is on the prescription."

ScripTalk is only available locally through the VA. Johnson says it is especially important for patients who have limited vision and could get medications mixed up. There's also another device programmed with 700,000 bar codes that can help the blind as they do their grocery shopping. It has a large scanner that is waved over a product.

"You're gonna be able to place this into your basket and you're gonna be going down the rows and you're gonna pick up this can. You're not sure what it is, so it tells you what it is."

The scanner can also be set to record other items like clothing or generic products. Johnson says if you were a blind veteran several years ago, he would give you a cane, talking watch and large-button phone and send you on your way. But now the newest technologies help veterans live more independent lives.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...