Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

VCE examines low vision with detection and care

Image of military health personnel wearing a mask and performing an eye exam. Click to open a larger version of the image. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jordan Belthrop (right) administers an eye exam on Navy Hospitalman Caleb Newbill at the Naval Support Activity Souda Bay’s, Branch Health Clinic on the island of Crete, Greece in Aug. 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Joel Diller)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Health Tools | Medical Research and Development | | Centers of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

“There are many types of low vision, ranging from small to life-changing issues,” explained Dr. David Eliason, associate chief of the Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vision Center of Excellence.

With February designated as Low Vision Awareness Month, Eliason, the VCE and other eye specialists within the Defense Health Agency are focused on the variety of causes and cases of low vision within the military.

“People also become low vision for a variety of reasons,” said Eliason. “Because needs and treatments are as varied as the cases, the DOD is in the unique position of having the greatest variety of low vision patients compared with other medical systems.”

Causes of low vision range from hereditary to environmental factors, but what exactly is “low vision?”

“A broad definition of ‘low vision,’ in the past, may have been anyone with vision worse than a particular level. For example, they don’t see any better than 20/70 or 20/80 in both eyes,” said Eliason. “However, most low vision specialists prefer a practical approach to defining low vision as simply a loss of vision that has resulted in a decrease in desired visual function or ability for that person.”

This usually means a loss of visual function in both eyes, added Eliason.

“We tend to be able to perform fairly well if we lose vision in just one eye, but still have normal vision in the other eye,” Eliason said.

Low vision, said Eliason, disproportionately affects older populations.

“The impacts of low vision can be felt across the patient spectrum within the DOD, from active-duty service members to retirees and dependents,” said Eliason. “Naturally, though, the majority of low vision patients are dependents and retirees simply because the demographics of the active-duty population is going to put them within the healthiest groups of the general population. That’s also not factoring in the fact that they are remaining on active duty because they obviously don’t have a disability that is limiting their function.”

But the number of service members dealing with low vision is significant. Many times, individuals find themselves continuing to serve in some capacity, even as they are separating or retiring because of low vision.

“The process may be long enough that their vision loss requires attention prior to their separation,” Eliason said. “Even though they may be in the process of leaving the DOD, that doesn’t mean that things can be put off or not addressed until they separate.”

In other cases, he said, low vision may be just one of many combat-related injuries that a patient is dealing with.

Eliason said a plan should be in place for their post-separation eyecare, whether that be with the Department of Veterans Affairs or out in the community.

Military personnel wearing a mask performing an eye exam
Air Force Airman 1st Class Hannah Schaeffer (right) performs an eye exam on fellow 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron Medical Technician Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexis Workman at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Pennsylvania in Dec. 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Fritz)

“The VCE [Vision Center of Excellence] was designed to evaluate the continuum of care that a DOD patient would undergo with a significant eye injury, starting at prevention and going all the way through to detection, diagnosis, mitigation, and treatment of an eye injury and what results afterward, including vision rehabilitation,” Eliason said.

Part of the mission of the VCE is also to bridge the gap between active-duty and post active-duty vision care, specifically with the VA.

VCE connects the DOD and the VA because the DOD does not traditionally offer long-term rehabilitation.

“It’s understandable why,” Eliason said. The priority of the DOD is the readiness of its fighting force, and the medical force that supports that.”

Additionally, Eliason said, in cases where low vision may be caused by damage from hazards encountered as part of one’s job, safety and prevention are key.

“Prevention measures are command- and occupation-specific,” said Eliason. “But for cases that are based on hereditary factors, some cases aren’t preventable or predictable and may surface in younger service members unannounced. Our mission is to be looking at what factors lead to eye injuries, as well as short-term and long-term impacts of vision injuries and vision rehabilitation.”

With the VA taking on responsibilities for rehabilitation, it allows military medical treatment facilities to focus on more traditional aspects of vision care like routine care, testing, and surgeries.

“The VA has a large, nationwide, robust vision rehabilitation program, and a memorandum of understanding is in place that allows the VA to see active-duty personnel for vision rehabilitation,” said Eliason. “That gives the DOD a chance to focus on other aspects of vision care.”

As a one of several centers of excellence within of the Defense Health Agency, the VCE leads and advocates for programs and initiatives with the inter-related goals of improving vision health, optimizing readiness, and enhancing the quality of life for service members and veterans. VCE promotes collaboration, facilitates integration, and serves as an advocate for vision across the DOD and VA healthcare systems. VCE also collaborates with other federal health care organizations, academia, and private sector organizations.

You also may be interested in...

39 MDG beta tests AFMS first blended TCCC and Medic-X curriculum

Article Around MHS
5/20/2022
Military medical personnel performing safety exercise

The Air Force Medical Service tasked the 39th Medical Group to test the service’s first blended curriculum, enhancing the readiness and skills of medical personnel, Soldiers, and NATO allies at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, April 20-24, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Expeditionary Medical Integration Course: Unified in keeping Marines in the fight

Article Around MHS
5/12/2022
Military personnel in medical training

I Marine Expeditionary Force's Expeditionary Operations Training Group on Camp Pendleton developed the Expeditionary Medical Integration Course to prepare Marines and line corpsmen for future deployments.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Navy Hospital Ship Departs for Pacific Partnership 2022

Article Around MHS
5/9/2022
Navy Hospital Ship Departs

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departed San Diego, May 3, marking the beginning of Pacific Partnership 2022 (PP22).

Recommended Content:

Readiness Capabilities | Health Readiness

Niger, U.S. doctors treat 550 patients in Ouallam

Article Around MHS
4/15/2022
Military training

 Nigerien and U.S. doctors alongside U.S. joint service medical specialists established a temporary field clinic to provide medical treatment to citizens of Ouallam and the surrounding areas as a part of a medical civic action program (MEDCAP) in Ouallam, Niger, March 16, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Expeditionary Medical Force Brings Optimal Readiness in Pacific Region

Article Around MHS
10/18/2021
A male soldier talks about a chart to to a female sailor.

The 121st Field Hospital of the 549th Hospital Center recently introduced an innovative way to increase medical Soldiers’ proficiency and competency by enhancing access to the field hospital equipment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Combat Support

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus
Showing results 1 - 6 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.