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Army Laser Eye Surgery Program
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If NFL football players, police and firefighters can have it, why not soldiers?

"It" is laser refractive surgery, an increasingly popular way to correct certain vision problems and, for many, eliminate the need to wear glasses.

The Army had been concerned about after-effects of the surgery in its soldiers, many of whom routinely face physically rigorous field or combat conditions.

While there are limits on the kinds of surgery aviation, special forces, diving and HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) students may have, the Army now allows the surgery for most occupational specialties.

"After reviewing what was known about the safety of laser refractive surgery in civilian populations … the Army determined there was good reason to expect safe results in its most valuable asset—the soldier," said Col. William P. Madigan, ophthalmology consultant to the Army surgeon general and practicing ophthalmologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

Availability of the surgery in Army facilities is limited, however.

"Readiness is the primary reason for offering laser surgery to soldiers," Madigan said. "Soldiers perform better if they don't have to worry about breaking eyeglasses, losing contact lenses, or glasses and lenses fogging up at crucial moments. Moreover, compatibility of eyewear with night vision goggles, gas masks, aiming devices and other systems is a constant source of concern."

Criteria for surgery

"Soldiers eligible for surgery in Army facilities are prioritized according to operational readiness criteria," Madigan explained. "Right now, the surgery is only offered to active-duty soldiers."

Priorities are:

First, combat arms soldiers assigned to a unit whose mission involves operations at the line of battle or behind hostile lines (for example, special operations, infantry, field artillery and armor battalions).

Second, combat support and combat service support unit personnel who are currently assigned to a division or separate brigade.

Third, other active-duty personnel as space is available.

Additional criteria include:

  • At least 18 months remaining on active duty at the time of surgery, or in conjunction with an executed reenlistment.
  • At least 12 months in a first- or second-priority unit (as listed above).
  • Ability to return for follow-up visits for post-operative care as specified by the surgeon.

Reserve component soldiers are not eligible for refractive eye surgery unless they meet the criteria and priorities above.

"Retirees and active-duty and retiree family members are only eligible for laser refractive surgery on a space-available basis," said Jack Desmond, U.S. Army Medical Command TRICARE operations directorate. "Laser refractive surgery is not a covered benefit under TRICARE, so military beneficiaries who go downtown to get the surgery do so at their own expense."

Types of laser surgery

Army surgical centers offer photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, and laser keratomileusis, or LASIK. Patients should discuss these treatments and their appropriateness with their physician, Madigan advised.

Locations performing surgery

As of December 2002, eight surgical centers will be open for business. These centers perform LASIK and PRK surgeries.

Currently open are Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.; Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii; Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, N.C.; Darnall Army Community Hospital, Fort Hood, Texas; and Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, Fort Campbell, Ky.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, is scheduled to open in May 2002; Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Wash., in June 2002; and Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in December 2002.

Getting on a waiting list

Soldiers who meet the criteria for surgery should request the surgery through their unit commander. Soldiers who are not located at an installation with an Army surgical center cannot obtain surgery unless their commanders work out an arrangement with an Army center.

More information

Additional information about the Army's Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery program and about the surgical procedures is available from The Walter Reed Program Center

Students who want information about participation in aviation, special forces, diving and HALO studies should contact the appropriate school; they should not receive any laser treatment until doing so.

Above Information Courtesy of United States Army


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