Eye Care Action Network

An Interview with Congressman Gene Green

Since 1992, Congressman Gene Green has served residents of the 29th District of Texas. Yet, he has also worked to help improve eye health for all Americans by leading the Congressional Vision Caucus,  a bipartisan coalition of the House of Representatives. The Caucus focuses on three priority areas: research, prevention/public health and access to treatment and rehabilitation. As a founding member and co-chair of the Congressional Vision Caucus, Rep. Green has dedicated himself to preventing unnecessary vision loss and blindness.

Prevent Blindness America recently interviewed Congressman Green about his ongoing involvement with the Congressional Vision Caucus and his views on the importance of eye and vision health as a national policy issue.

As a Representative, how important is it for you to hear from constituents?

As a Member of Congress, I speak with constituents nearly every day whether through returning phone calls, answering emails or postal mail, or in person meetings.  Knowing what issues are important to my constituents allows me to be aware of their priorities and helps me create a position on certain policy issues.  I believe that interaction with constituents is extremely important.  That is also why I make it a priority to return home to Houston every weekend to be in the district.

Why is vision health a priority for you?

Vision health is a priority because sight is critical for everyone, no matter who you are or how old you are.  It affects developmental learning, communicating, working, health, and quality of life, which is why vision impairment is one of the most feared disabilities.  An estimated 80 million people in the United States have a potentially blinding eye disease, 3 million have low vision, 1.1 million are legally blind and 200,000 are more severely visually impaired.  Despite evidence that half of all blindness can be prevented, the number of Americans who suffer from age-related macular degeneration are expected to double by 2050, from 9.1 million to 17.8 million.  Vision disorders and impairment are major public health problems and can often be overlooked by Congress.

How did you become involved in the Congressional Vision Caucus?

I became involved in the Congressional Vision Caucus through my work on the Health Subcommittee and by relationship with Prevent Blindness America and many other vision-related organizations.  The Vision Caucus was created in 2003 when Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. David Price, Rep. Patrick Tiberi and I signed up as the first co-chairs.  Recently, Rep. Phil Gingrey replaced Rep. Tiberi as a co-chair.

The initial goal of the caucus was to boost our membership and raise the profile of vision issues among Members of Congress, primarily through education and awareness.  Since then, we have spearheaded an appropriations letter each year, requesting funding for the CDC’s vision screening and education program, research at the National Eye Institute, and a vision demonstration program at the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. 

What would you say to encourage other Representatives to join the Congressional Vision Caucus?

The Congressional Vision Caucus is one of the most popular House caucuses and has over 75 members.  Through the Congressional Vision Caucus, we all hope to raise awareness about the serious burden of vision problems, and work together in a bipartisan fashion to turn the tide on this serious healthcare problem. We aim to set forth a national vision strategy to raise awareness about the increasing number of Americans at risk for age-related diseases, to provide better understanding of the personal risk of vision loss, and stress the importance of necessary steps to preserve and protect eyesight, and inform communities so that they may prepare the treatment and rehabilitation services that will be needed.

Millions of Americans from all Congressional districts have a potentially blinding eye disease like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts.  We in Congress must do more to raise awareness about these serious conditions, including ways to prevent and treat them. The stronger the Caucus, the better the chances for success in meeting our objectives.

To find out if your representative is a member of the Congressional Vision Caucus, visit the official Caucus website at http://www.house.gov/green/cvc/index.shtml