In addition to being the National Director of Low Vision Optometry and Rehabilitation Services for New England Low Vision and Blindness’ Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic, Doctor Kara Cowell Gagnon is the Founder/CEO of the non-profit, Braveminds (aka Peace of Mind Brain Injury Services).
Previously, she served as the Director of Low Vision Optometry at the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center, and Director of the Optometric Acquired Brain Injury Clinic at VA Connecticut Healthcare System, for a period of 19 years.
During her 19 year tenure with the Veterans Affairs Department, Dr. Gagnon chaired numerous national committees. Some of her most significant accomplishments include:
- Serving as the Founder and Chair for the National Low Vision Veterans Affairs Optometric Workgroup
- Serving as the Founder and Chair for the National Acquired Brain Injury Veterans Affairs Optometric Workgroup
- Serving as Chair of the Workgroup that developed National Clinical Practice Recommendations for the Prescription of Low Vision Devices
- Chairing two National VA/Department of Defense Conferences addressing the Visual Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury
She has helped write national policy, defining the delivery system of care and the standards of care for visually impaired, blind and traumatically brain injured soldiers and veterans.
Dr. Kara Gagnon holds Adjunct Faculty positions with the following colleges of Optometry: New England College of Optometry, Illinois College of Optometry, State University of New York College of Optometry and Pennsylvania College of Optometry.
Doctor Gagnon has also served as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Visual Sciences at Yale Medical School Department of Ophthalmology for 11 years where she develops their low vision curriculum.
Doctor Gagnon has taught hundreds of doctors about low vision optometry. It has been said that she has more residents in hospitals than any other low vision Preceptor.
She has been recognized for this work with several commendations from the Department of Veterans Affairs, an award from the National Blinded Veterans Association and an award presented by the former Secretary of Health of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. James Peake.
Her other respected professional activities and appointments include: serving as
- Executive Council Member of the Vision Rehabilitation Section of the American Optometric Association
- Chair of the Brain Injury Committee of the Vision Rehabilitation Section of the American Optometric Association
- Membership and Fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry
- Advisory Board Member for SUNY College of Optometry China Project
Her Background Story
Born in New Jersey as one of 10 children, Dr. Kara Gagnon moved to Connecticut when she was 1 year old.
When Kara was young, her aunt treated visually impaired students in special education in juvenile detention. Kara went along with her aunt while she worked with a young blind teen. This was Kara’s first introduction into the world of low vision and it left a life-long impression.
“People with disabilities, not seen or heard or cared for has always been my motivator. I’m very much an advocate” Dr. Kara Gagnon
After getting her undergraduate pre-medical degree from the University of Vermont, Kara took six years off between her undergraduate and optometry school. During this time, she worked with developmentally delayed Deaf-Blind students at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.
When Kara went to Optometry school, she specifically pursued Low Vision Optometry, working with Low Vision doctors after hours and earning a Graduate Award for Low Vision. Dr. Kara Gagnon received her Doctor of Optometry in 1995.
As a student in 1990, Dr. Gagnon had a 3-month rotation in the Eastern Blind Rehab Center. She enjoyed this so much that she returned later for a 12-month residency. Upon completing her residence, Dr. Gagnon was hired to be the Director of the Eastern Blind Rehab Center, where she spent the next 18 years.
While working at the Eastern Blind Rehab Center with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Dr. Gagnon opened brain injury clinics, advocated for the visually impaired patient population with the NIH (National Institute of Health) and organized and chaired two ground-breaking conferences on the Visual Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury.
In 2014, Dr. Gagnon resigned from the VA in order to start Braveminds, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the spouses, children and loved ones of our United States military personnel, veterans and civilians who have sustained a brain injury, suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) or face any number of other daily challenges.
Dr. Kara Gagnon now divides her time between being the National Director of Low Vision Optometry and Rehabilitation Services for the Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic at New England Low Vision and Blindness, Braveminds and other speaking engagements.
In her free time, Kara enjoys competing in sprint triathlons and spending time with her two sons, Luke and Nate.