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Airmen Considering PRK or LASIK, Talk to Your Commander First

Los Angeles Air Force Base -- 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. Before military members talk to their eye doctor, they need to first talk to their commander.

"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 refractive surgery," said Capt Brian Blanchard, 61st Optometry Flight commander.

"Since it is so prevalent and has an outstanding success rate, people sometimes don't think of it as a surgery," said Capt. Blanchard. "It hasn't occurred often, but there have been several cases where people have undergone refractive surgery and it impacted their ability to PCS or be deployed."

Qualified Active Duty personnel may be eligible for the corrective procedure through the United States Air Force Refractive Surgery (USAF-RS) program. Ideally, all interested personnel would have the surgery performed at an AF Refractive Surgery Center and following the surgery be closely monitored by their local AF optometry clinic. Patients certainly have the option of choosing to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket. Since refractive surgery is not a TRICARE covered benefit, the cost will not be reimbursed to the military member.

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 next be briefed by the health benefits advisor at the 61st 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 at that time schedule the surgery. Within three days of having the surgery, the military member must notify their primary care manager or base optometry clinic so that a profile may be initiated. Active duty personnel 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 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 you are going to have the surgery, the best thing to do is ask the doctor what the potential negative outcomes are and how much time, if that happens, before I would be ready to go back to my job," Capt Blanchard said. 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, he said.

To date, the Air Force has performed nearly 50,000 corneal refractive surgeries. Of those 50,000, 99.7 percent have obtained visual acuities of 20/40 or better without glasses at their six month post operative visit. There are several DoD centers around the country. The nearest to LAAFB is located at Travis AFB (DGMC Refractive Surgery Center).

For questions concerning refractive surgery, Capt Blanchard encourages military members to call the 61st Medical Group Optometry Clinic at (310) 653-6535 or 653-CURE. The health benefits advisor can be reached at (310) 653-6621.