Thinking about refractive laser eye surgery?

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tyler Barney
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron
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. 

Since it is so prevalent and has an outstanding success rate, people sometimes don't think of it as a surgery. It hasn't occurred often, but there have been cases where people have gotten refractive surgery done and it impacted their ability for a permanent change of station or deployment. 

Qualified active duty Airmen may be eligible for the corrective procedure through the U. S. Air Force Refractive Surgery program. Ideally, all those interested would have the surgery performed at an Air Force Refractive Surgery Center and follow up at their local optometry clinic. However, patients have the option of going to a civilian clinic but would have to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket. 

For those interested in having the procedure in the civilian sector, 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 also be briefed by the health benefits advisor at the 71st 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 Refractive Surgery Registry for permission to proceed. 

Once permission is granted by the registry, the member may schedule the 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 Airmen will be on a medical profile for up to four months after surgery which will prevent a PCS or deployment. They also must have their records of the 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 within a week or two. 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 make a military member ineligible to continue their service depending on their job and the level of vision loss. 

To date, the Air Force has performed almost 50,000 corneal refractive surgeries with 99.7 percent visual acuity of 20/40 at 6 months. 

There are several Department of Defense centers around the country. The nearest to Vance AFB are located at Lackland AFB, Texas, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

For question about refractive surgery, contact the Vance Optometry Clinic, 213-7418, or visit