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Veteran rehab center named after doctor killed in Iraq

January 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The wounds of war all too often include blindness. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 50,000 blind or visually impaired veterans in their system.

That includes veterans like Bill Haskell, whose minimal vision will soon turn to total darkness.

He is one of the first five patients at the Veterans Affairs' newest blind rehabilitation center in Long Beach.

The center was officially dedicated Wednesday, along with other buildings at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The center was named after the first military optometrist ever killed in the line of duty. Major Charles Soltes, Jr., 36, was killed by an explosion in Iraq.

His widow is also an optometrist at the hospital. She and their three sons attended the ceremony to name the Major Charles Robert Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center.

"My husband is probably smiling down at us," said Soltes' widow, Dr. Sally Dang. "He probably would never imagine we would do something to this extent in his name."

This center will serve the southwestern United States. The number of patients per year at the seven new buildings and the blind rehabilitation center are expected to be at least 50,000 veterans.

"What's behind us is not exclusive or it's not just for those that are returning back from Iraq and Afghanistan, but for all of our veterans that might have health conditions that cause low vision or loss of vision," said Richard Beam, the center's director of public and community affairs.