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For Thousands of Troops, Eye Surgery is Key to Vision Readiness

Image of A surgical team with the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg monitors the progress of a patient's surgery inside the Ophthalmology Clinic's Refractive Surgery suite. A surgical team with the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg monitors the progress of a patient's surgery inside the Ophthalmology Clinic's Refractive Surgery suite. (Photo by Jerome Mapp)

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For military eye doctors and eye surgeons, one of their top priorities is to preserve and enhance vision for the service members who need it most, including those in career fields like aviation, special operations and the security forces. 

The core of this effort is the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program, which has supported more than 750,000 surgical procedures during the past 20 years.  The surgical procedures, which include Lasik and PRK surgery, often aim to eliminate service members’ dependence on glasses or contact lenses in austere environments. 

“Our goal is to enable our warfighters to qualify and continue in professions that might require excellent uncorrected vision,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Tyler Miles, an aerospace optometrist at the Navy Refractive Surgery Center at Naval Medical Center San Diego. 

To help the military’s vision care community stay up to date on the latest technology and research, the 2022 Military Refractive Surgery Safety and Strategy Symposium (MRSSSS) convened in late January.  This year’s symposium was conducted virtually due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. 

The symposium focused attention on how to enhance vision on the battlefield, to make headgear and goggles less burdensome and to improve standardization and optimization across the Military Health System.  Refractive surgery is a model in the Defense Health Agency for standardization and optimization of procedures across 26 military warfighter eye centers. 

Laser eye surgery is available to all active duty service members who are medically and administratively qualified. While it is classified as an elective surgery, patients are often extremely happy with the outcome and their decision to have a Lasik or PRK procedure. 

“For most military members, the enhanced readiness and safety they find after their surgery is often cited as one of the best decisions they have made in their military career,” Miles said. 

The Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program was initially designed to provide a combat-vision edge to Navy SEALS, Special Forces and other warfighters through a variety of corrective surgery options. 

Since its inception in 2001, the research, technology and experience have allowed the program to expand and include all active duty service members, including aviators.

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