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LASIK Now Available to Air Force Members

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Updated April 21, 2011

by Master Sgt. Richard B. Searles, Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. (AFPN) -- The Air Force’s “warfighter” corneal refractive surgery program expanded its services to include laser-in-situ-keratomileuis, or LASIK, for qualified people at its centers.

Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff, approved a memorandum written by Lt. Gen. George “Peach” Taylor Jr., Air Force surgeon general, announcing the immediate start of the expanded program.

LASIK and photorefractive keratectomy, a similar surgery already being performed at the centers, are Food and Drug Administration-approved elective procedures designed to reduce the need for corrective lenses.

“(Because) glasses and contact lenses may be an operational disadvantage, PRK or LASIK may be performed to enhance performance and safety, and increase the readiness of warfighters by eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses,” said Col. David Rhodes, chief physical standards at the Air Force Medical Support Agency.

LASIK will be offered to airmen who are not considered aviation and special-duty personnel.

“Aviation and special-duty personnel will continue to be covered under a separate surgeon general policy and are currently restricted from undergoing LASIK due to concerns regarding the stability of the corneal flap created during this procedure,” said Rhodes. “Selected special-duty personnel whose duties are not performed while flying, however, will be eligible for LASIK.

“There are general concerns with corneal-flap-related complications of LASIK that go beyond routine clinical issues that are specific to the aviation and operational environment,” said Rhodes. “There is no corneal flap created with PRK. For this reason, PRK remains the preferred procedure, and expectations are that it will continue to be performed in much greater numbers at the (Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center).”

Any person electing to have LASIK performed should be aware of the potential for complications associated with the corneal flap that are not associated with PRK. Rhodes said that although an individual is currently in a career field that is qualified for LASIK, having the procedure would make him or her ineligible to later train into most aviation fields under current policy.

Though either surgery may be operationally beneficial for some people, it is an elective procedure. There is no requirement for any airman to obtain either LASIK or PRK. Eligible people may undergo either procedure at any operational refractive surgery center.

“Wilford Hall Medical Center and the U.S. Air Force Academy’s center currently have the resources to do LASIK and PRK,” said Rhodes. “The other centers currently perform PRK and will offer LASIK as soon as resources permit.”

Other centers are located at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; Keesler AFB, Miss.; and Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Because of the expected high demand for this procedure, patients are assigned an operational priority based on mission requirement. They can have either LASIK or PRK depending on the center capability, the opinion of the surgeon, and patient eligibility based on Air Force specialty code.

“The individual’s squadron commander must certify the prioritization category,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said the commander should consider mission impact when granting permissive temporary duty for these surgical procedures because the patient will not be allowed to deploy for a period of time resulting in temporary duty limitations.”

The corneal refractive surgery program was initiated in late 2001 with PRK. Since the program began, more than 6,000 airmen have had the surgery.

Airmen seeking more information on the procedures should contact their installation eye-care professional.

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