Army strong. Those words conjure up a notion of a healthy young individual, full of vitality. Of course, being in top physical condition includes having a clear and healthy vision. From sighting a target on the battlefield to rescuing people in distress, the eyes must be able and willing to assist without any conscious effort.
While glasses and contact lenses are a common mode of correction for the general population, they’re not optimal for the demands of the military. Refractive surgery is often preferable, particularly LASIK or laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis. It’s not surprising we see so many people getting LASIK in the military. It’s the most common refractive surgery being done today.
Sometimes, alternative surgeries are recommended to meet the specialized needs of military personnel. These include laser-assisted subepithelial keratectomy (LASEK), photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE), implantable collamer lens (ICL), or refractive lens exchange (RLE).
Why Glasses and Lenses Are Bad for the Military
Glasses are the go-to mode of correction for many people. In the military, however, they pose a significant risk. Glasses can be knocked off, either inadvertently or intentionally by an enemy. They could also break. They can fog up in certain conditions, blurring vision. The variable environmental conditions and uncertainty of a mission can make wearing glasses both inconvenient and outright dangerous.
This may lead one to ask, are contact lenses allowed in the military? While contacts are, in fact, permitted, they present a host of issues as well. It is imperative that contact lenses be kept clean to minimize the risk of infection that comes with wearing them. When one is serving overseas, conditions can vary widely and may pose a problem with lens hygiene. Combat conditions could include dryness, dust, dirty water, and more. Lenses could also tear or fall out at precarious times.
Why Choose LASIK for Military Personnel
Can you get LASIK in the military? Many believe the answer is no, but that is outdated information. All branches of the military now permit some form of refractive surgery, but certain personnel may need a waiver. Here are some of the benefits to choosing LASIK as a mode of vision correction:
- Eliminates the need to carry glasses or contact lenses
- Eliminates the risk of broken glasses
- Eliminates the risk of fogged-up glasses
- Eliminates the risk of contact lens-related infection
- Eliminates the risk of torn contact lenses
- More natural vision than glasses
- No need to update glasses or contact lens prescription
- Fast recovery
- Painless procedure
- LASIK military dependents are more easily cared for
LASIK and Military Service
Military LASIK requirements vary depending on the specific branch. The vision specifications outlined below are current at the time of writing but subject to change. Be sure to check with your branch for the most up-to-date information.
US Air Force
The air force vision requirements include an upper limit to refractive error of ± 8.00 Diopters. Some careers have stricter requirements. For example, pilots have requirements for both corrected (20/20 at distance, 20/20 at near) and uncorrected vision (20/70 at distance, 20/30 at near). Color vision must also be normal. If refractive surgery is performed before entering the service, there is a waiting period of one year from the date of operation. The US Air Force does state that “corrective eye surgery may also disqualify applicants for pilot or other specific roles,” so it’s important to work with a recruiter to discuss the specific career you’re interested in pursuing.
The army vision requirements vary widely depending on the career. There are stipulations for vision, muscle balance, depth perception, and color vision. The refractive surgery vision requirements for the army vary by a role as well. Though there are restrictions for certain positions, waivers are available to bypass them. Army LASIK can be performed through the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program (WRESP) at various installations around the country. These LASIK eye surgery military facilities offer certain procedures for those on active duty.
US Coast Guard
The vision requirements for Coast Guard include limits on corrected and uncorrected acuity, depending on the specific position. Normal color vision, depth perception, and visual field are also required. LASIK, LASEK, PRK, and wavefront-guided PRK are permitted, but certain personnel may require a waiver.
US Navy & Marine Corps
Navy vision requirements include eyesight of 20/40 in the best eye, 20/70 in the worst eye, and correctable to 20/25. There is a stipulation against color blindness. Navy seal vision requirements are no different. Refractive surgery (PRK, LASIK, SMILE) is permissible without waiver, so long as it meets certain constraints and doesn’t cause visual compromise. If the parameters for surgery are not met, a waiver is required. ICLs are permissible for certain classes as well.
Air National Guard
Air national guard vision requirements vary widely by state. Air national guard pilot LASIK may be permissible, depending on the state.
LASIK Procedure for Military Servants
If you’re wondering how to get LASIK in the military, we’ll go over the steps. First, you’ll want to find an ophthalmologist to perform the surgery. Some will choose LASIK military clinics, while others will prefer to seek care at a civilian facility, like the Kraff Eye Institute. Whether the surgery is done at a laser eye surgery military facility or a private clinic, it’s important that there is a relationship of trust between doctor and patient. Experience is also an important factor to look at when deciding to move forward with surgery. You will not find a more knowledgeable team and surgeon than here at my practice.
The LASIK procedure is easy, fast, and painless. Here is what to expect from the process:
Consultation and Pre-Op
At the initial visit, various screening tests will be performed to determine your candidacy for surgery. Your vision will be checked with and without glasses. Your cornea will be mapped (topography), and its thickness measured. The general health of your eyes will also be evaluated prior to surgery at your dilated pre-op appointment. There are certain parameters that patients must meet in order to make refractive surgery safe and effective. A refractive counselor will discuss the procedures in detail and answer any questions. The patient will then meet with Dr. Kraff to discuss test results and determine which procedure would be best. While LASIK is the most common technique, some patients may be better suited to other procedures, such as PRK, LASEK, refractive lens exchange (RLE), or implantable collamer lenses (ICL).
Surgery can be performed anywhere from 1-4 weeks following the initial consultation and pre-op, depending on whether you wear contact lenses. The material of your contact lenses can affect how long you’ll need to be out of them before surgery. Once that is determined, the refractive consultant at the Kraff Eye Institute will find a mutually suitable date and time for the procedure.
On the day of surgery, you will need to be in the office for about two hours. The procedure itself is only about 30 minutes long, but there is both preparation and recovery time to be taken into account. When you arrive, you’ll check in, receive additional testing (if needed), and be given a mild sedative by mouth for relaxation. Then, you’ll be taken to the surgical suite and prepped for the procedure. The eyes will be numbed with anesthetic drops to relieve you of pain and discomfort during the procedure. The surgeon will use a LASER to help guide the treatment. A flap is first created from the outer corneal layers and lifted up and off to the side. This takes about 4-5 minutes. You may experience some pressure during this process, but it only lasts for about 30 seconds. Additional numbing drops will then be applied before the next step. An instrument will be used to help gently keep the eyes open. Next, the flap will be lifted and the laser applied to reshape your cornea. This part is a matter of seconds, and you will not feel any pain or discomfort as the LASER is treating. The flap will then be placed back over the treated area and smoothed out to ensure no wrinkles. This step takes about 5 minutes per eye. Once the first eye has been completed, the other will be treated. Once the procedure is done, Dr. Kraff will inspect his work and make sure everything looks perfect.
In PRK, no flap is created. Rather, the outer layer of the cornea is gently removed before the laser is applied to reshape the cornea. A bandage contact lens is then placed to protect the cornea while the outer layer regenerates new cells.
You will then transition to the recovery room, where your post-operative instructions will be reviewed and your questions answered. Dr. Kraff will examine your eyes again before you go. You’ll need to have someone drive you home on the day of surgery.
You’ll be instructed to sleep 4-6 hours upon arriving home, allowing your eyes to recover. You may experience some blur and discomfort. It’s best to keep the eyes closed for most of the day to ensure a faster recovery. By the next day, your vision will have drastically improved.
The recovery for PRK takes a little longer, and the patient should plan on laying low for the first couple of days following the treatment.
You’ll return to the clinic the next day for a quick follow-up. Dr. Kraff will review how you’re progressing and answer any questions that may have come up. The vast majority of people who have LASIK are able to return to most of their normal activities within 24 hours of their surgery. The follow-up visit schedule thereafter is variable, depending on patient recovery.
Military LASIK eye surgery offers unparalleled safety and freedom for soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors alike. For these servant leaders, a good vision could be the difference between life and death. Contact Kraff Eye Institute today to learn more about LASIK for the military.