Airmen need approval before eye surgery

Beth Young
75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

***image1***Advancements in laser eye surgeries have made it possible to get rid of a lifetime of eye glasses and contact lenses in one procedure, but before military members talk to the eye doctor, they need to talk to their commander.

“Because it is so easy to do, they don’t think of it as a surgery,” said Maj. (Dr.) Marvin Acquistapace, 75th Optometry Flight commander. “It hasn’t been really frequent but there have been several cases where people have gotten refractive surgery done on the civilian side, and it impacted their ability to be deployed.”

Because an adverse outcome or an extended recovery time could make them non-deployable, military members must get written approval from their squadron commander before getting any type of laser eye surgery, he said.
Although laser eye surgery, most commonly known as Lasik or PRK, is not covered by TRICARE, there is a military program that provides it for active duty members who qualify. However, they still have the option of choosing to pay for it themselves with a private doctor.

“There are just certain things they have to do beforehand that they don’t know about,” Major Acquistapace said. “There has always been a regulation for elective surgeries but a lot of people just don’t know about it.”

For those planning on getting the procedure, after getting written permission from their commander, they must talk to the health benefits advisor at the Ramstein Clinic. Within three days of having the surgery, the military member must have post operative testing to ensure they still meet vision standards. They also must have their records of their procedure sent to the clinic so it can be added to their medical records.

While the Lasik version of laser eye surgery may be done over a weekend, recovery from the PRK procedure may take up to a week and may require medication for up to four months. Any absences from work because of laser surgery require regular leave to be taken.

Although it’s rare, Major Acquistapace said that an adverse outcome to a laser eye surgery done outside the military can cause a military member to become ineligible to continue their service depending on their job and the level of vision loss.

“People are not realizing that if you have this done outside the military that it’s your responsibility if there is a poor outcome,” he said. “We love to have people come here because if we send them to one of the military centers and there is an adverse outcome, we know the military is going to take care of them.”

Since 2001, the Air Force has performed almost 50,000 corneal refractive surgeries with 99.7 percent visual acuity of 20/40 at six months. Landstuhl Regional Medical Center performs such surgeries.

Wait time for such surgeries depends on the priority of the patient: for example, flyers take priority over other patients whose duties do not require perfect vision.

For question about laser eye surgery, call the Ramstein Optometry Clinic at 479-2350.