By Maj. Roger Benjamin
314th Medical Operations Squadron/
Optometry Element Chief
Advancements in refractive surgery, commonly known as LASIK or PRK, have made it possible for those with vision problems to get rid of their eye glasses and contact lenses. Military members need to consider all the available options if they desire to have the surgery due to the impact on the mission.
Qualified active duty personnel may be eligible for the corrective procedure through the Air Force Refractive Surgery program. Ideally, all active duty members would have the surgery performed at an Air Force Refractive Surgery Center and be followed by their local optometry clinic. Certain factors, such as number of applicants, the retiree and dependent population seeking routine eye care and optometry manning may preclude some from participating in the USAF-RS program.
However, patients have the option of choosing to pay for the procedure on their own. Since refractive surgery is not a TRICARE covered benefit, the cost is not reimbursable.
For those interested in having the procedure performed by a civilian provider, there are steps that must be met prior to any elective surgery. First and foremost is written permission from their squadron commander. The member must next be briefed by an advisor at the 314th Medical Group and the packet must be signed by the medical group commander.
Next, the pre-operative evaluation, performed by the civilian surgery center is forwarded to the USAF-RS Registry for “Permission to Proceed.” Once permission is granted by the registry, the member may schedule surgery. Within three days of having the surgery, the military member must notify their primary care manager or base optometry clinic so a profile may be initiated.
Active duty personnel will be on a medical profile for up to four months after surgery. This prevents a PCS or deployment during the duration of the profile. They also must have their records from their procedure and all follow-up care sent to the clinic so it can be added to their medical records.
Returning to normal duty is usually accomplished in one to two weeks. If the surgery is done outside the military, regular leave must be taken for any absences from work. Although it’s rare; an adverse outcome to refractive surgery can cause a military member to become ineligible to continue their service depending on their job and the level of vision loss.
The Little Rock Air Force Base optometry clinic can provide more information at 987-8702.