TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — 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 AFB’s David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center has no waiting list and is looking for Airmen who wish to eliminate their dependency on glasses or contacts. Airmen in the Western region are encouraged to travel here to receive surgery. According to Air Force Instruction 48-123, Medical Examinations and Standards, active-duty members can be authorized unit-funded or permissive TDY 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 Department of Defense facilities worldwide. 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,” stated 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.”
According to Simon, although laser eye surgery has been around since the 1980s, the military didn’t support the idea until about 15 years ago. 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 hampered the warfighter’s capabilities, which is why the military support laser-eye surgery.
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 non-deployable for at least 31 days for those who choose LASIK and as long as four months for PRK patients.
“There are subtle differences between LASIK and PRK,” Simon explained. “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 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,” stated Simon. “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, after his recent laser-eye surgery. “I noticed a difference in my vision right away.”
Travis’ DGMC has highly experienced and qualified surgeons on staff as well as state-of-the art equipment 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,” said Simon, 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.”
“I love that I got the surgery,” Daniels said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat no questions asked. It was definitely one of the best things I have done.”
For more information, call the Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center clinic at (707) 423-3146 or visit http://airforcemedicine.afms.mil/travis_lrc.