Sgt. Sergio Rodriguez of 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, undergoes a comprehensive eye exam Wednesday at Martin Army Community Hospital while being tested for the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program.

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Martin Army Community Hospital has streamlined the application process for Soldiers seeking refractive eye surgery.

Officials said active-duty service members looking to eliminate their dependency on eyeglasses or contact lenses no longer have to apply through Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart, Ga. While the surgery is still performed there, MACH now manages the entire course of action, including preoperative evaluations and post-op care.

"Fort Stewart used to track all of that. Soldiers would send in their application packet and hope to hear back from someone," said Dr. (Capt.) Steve Gutierrez, an optometrist at MACH's Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat Clinic. "We can set up a pre-op date here. That's where we decide if they're a good candidate for the surgery."

The Armywide Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program is primarily designed for combat-arms Soldiers facing deployments, he said. All active-duty personnel are eligible, but mission requirements dictate a candidate's priority.

In war zones, Soldiers often complain about the prescription inserts they wear in eye protection. Gutierrez said frames break, lenses crack, they fog up and get lost.

"If their glasses fall off or get broken during a firefight or other mission, it could render them combat-ineffective, jeopardize the mission or increase their risk of becoming a casualty," he said.

Some patients, however, are under a common misconception about the procedure, Gutierrez said. It doesn't completely do away with the need for glasses in the future. Between ages 40 and 50, an individual is still likely to be prescribed reading glasses.

He said Fort Benning ophthalmologists travel to Fort Stewart to perform the refractive eye surgeries. A laser center is planned for the new Martin Army Community Hospital, which is expected to open in 2014.
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Clear success
The Army's Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program has yielded strong success rates. A look at results two months after the procedure is performed:

• 96 percent of patients are at 20/20 vision or better.
• 98.5 percent will be 20/25 or better.
• 100 percent are 20/30 or better
Source: MACH eye clinic

Basic eligibility

All active-duty and activated National Guard and Reserve troops (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines) are eligible for refractive surgery under the WRESP program if they meet the following criteria:

• Approval by commanding officer (rank of O-5 or above)
• Army candidates must have at least 18 months remaining on active duty after surgery (or in conjunction with an executed re-enlistment action)
• No adverse personnel actions pending
• Be at least 21 years of age
• Able to meet all preoperative and postoperative appointments
• If you do not need glasses or contact lenses to drive a car, you are not a candidate for refractive eye surgery because your uncorrected vision is too good. Certain individuals are poor candidates for refractive surgery and will be advised so after the preoperative evaluation. Family members and retirees currently are not eligible for laser eye surgery.

For more information, visit www.winn.amedd.army.mil and click on the "Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program" link, where an application form can be downloaded.

Page last updated Wed January 11th, 2012 at 11:10