Airmen who are sick of living day to day with their glasses and contacts have an opportunity to leave them all behind.
The Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center at Travis Air Force Base’s David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center has no waiting list and is looking for new Airmen who wish to eliminate their dependency on glasses or contacts. Airmen in the western region are encouraged to travel to Travis Air Force Base in northern California to receive surgery. According to AFI 48-123, active-duty members can be authorized unit-funded or permissive temporary duty for treatment.
To receive the surgical benefit under the U.S. Air Force Refractive Surgery program, members must be treated at a Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center located at selected Defense Department facilities world-wide. If an active-duty member wishes to receive the treatment outside of a DOD facility, the member will incur all out-of-pocket costs and will not be authorized convalescent leave as the surgery itself is considered an elective procedure. By receiving surgery at a location such as DGMC, a member avoids surgery costs of more than $3,000, ensures a permissive or unit-funded temporary duty status to receive the treatment, and guarantees the benefit of convalescent leave following the procedure.
“Any member on active duty over the age of 21 may have a consult to see if they qualify and are a good candidate for the surgery,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Simon, Laser Refractive Center cornea and refractive surgery chief. “Airmen must have six months retainability or one year for members of the Navy and Marine Corps and 18 months for Soldiers.”
Although laser eye surgery has been around since the ‘80s, the military didn’t support the idea until about 15 years ago, according to Simon. Aviators and troops on the ground who required glasses were having difficulties in deployed environments as night-vision goggles were difficult to use when glasses and gas-mask inserts fogged. Such limitations deemed individuals ineffective warfighters, which is why the military supported laser-eye surgery, Simon said.
The Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center at DGMC offers two types of refractive surgery: Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis and photorefractive keratectomy. Both surgeries change the way images are focused on the retina to improve vision quality.
Individuals must have a commander’s authorization because they are nondeployable for at least 31 days for those who choose LASIK and as long as four months for PRK patients, Simon said.
“There are subtle differences between LASIK and PRK,” Simon said. “We refer to LASIK as ‘flap and zap’ and PRK as ‘zap’ so images focus better on the back of the eye.”
The recovery time of the two procedures varies as well. The recovery time for LASIK is about one week with some discomfort, while PRK is a couple weeks with more discomfort.
One of the biggest differences is that LASIK creates a potential weak point in the eye. It is not for individuals who are in hand-to-hand combat, which is why PRK is now the military standard, Simon said.
“Three months after surgery, patient results are the same,” Simon said. “The average vision outcome for individuals is that 95 percent of them have 20/20 vision or better six months after treatment.”
“For me, the whole process was quick and painless,” said Senior Airman Jeremy Daniels, 60th Maintenance Squadron inspection section, after his recent laser-eye surgery. “I noticed a difference in my vision right away.”
Travis has highly experienced and qualified surgeons on staff as well as state-of-the art equipment, which is not yet available at other bases. The laser refractive center surgeons have a combined experience of more than 10,000 cases.
“Our center has a flap-creating laser, the intralaser iFS Femtosecond laser, which helps improve accuracy in creating the flap during LASIK surgery,” Simon said, who boasts 16 years of surgical experience. “We also have a reshaping laser, the VISX S4IR Excimen Laser, which allows CustomVue treatments for patients and variable laser beam sizes for conserving tissue and optimizing treatment times.”
Daniels is also happy he had surgery.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat, no questions asked,” he said. “It was definitely one of the best things I have done.”
For Airmen interested in seeking this benefit and want more information, feel free to call the clinic at (707)-423-3146 or visit their website for more resources at http://airforcemedicine.afms.mil/travis_lrc.