By Jasmine Morales (Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center)March 16, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas -The difference between glasses and contact lens is obvious: you wear one propped on your nose and the other tucked inside your eye socket. Whether you wear contact lens or glasses, good eyesight makes a huge difference in your work and your play.
If you are an active duty service member and you wear glasses, you already know what a problem they are. Whether it's at the range zeroing your weapon, in the middle of PT, or checking out the other sex, glasses get in the way.
But what if you didn't have to wear glasses or contact lens to see better'
Pvt. Brandon Jefferson, S1, III Corps, a native of Jersey City, N. J said, "I just got tried of wearing glasses. I've been wearing them since I was in elementary school."
Jefferson decided to take advantage of the Department of Defense's Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program that provides free Lasik and PRK laser surgery for active-duty service members at military hospitals. The Military's goal is to minimize or eliminate the need for soldiers to be dependent on corrective eyewear.
All active-duty & activated National Guard & Reserve Soldiers are eligible for refractive surgery.
The Refractive Eye Surgery Center located on the second floor of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center (CRDAMC) is taking appointments to screen Soldiers to see if they are candidates for laser surgery.
Jefferson confessed he was nervous right before lying on the operating table. "You hear the laser but you can't feel it, it sounds like a ticking noise," he said. Just one day after Jefferson was at his follow- up appointment, excited, wearing dark shades, but already seeing clearly.
After making his decision for the surgery in November, he had to wait for his paperwork to be channeled and approved. Jefferson had surgery in late February. "The reason for the delay was mostly due to dealing with the process of following chain of command, but it was worth the wait," Jefferson said.
He advises other Soldiers considering laser surgery. "There's nothing to be nervous about, you won't feel any pain what so ever," he said.
"A service member's first move should be to get an approval and authorization letter from his or her commanders before making an appointment," said Lt. Col. Maximilian Psolka, chief of the Ophthalmology Clinic and Refractive Surgery Center. The commander's authorization letter is available for download at www.crdamc.amedd.army.mil.
The next step is to hand-carry the letter to the Eye-Ear-Nose & Throat Clinic (EENT) on the second floor of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
"Upon receipt of the commander's letter, we can schedule you for a pre-operative evaluation. If appointments are full, you are placed on a waiting list based on the date of the signed letter," Psolka said.
Once approved, active-duty Soldiers interested in the surgery can stop by the EENT clinic on the second floor of Darnall Medical Center or call to schedule an appointment for a second screening.
"At this time, we have many open appointments and I encourage those considering surgery to take the necessary steps to schedule their consultation now. You can come in now and have your surgery scheduled within the month," Psolka said. He added that Soldiers scheduled for deployments have priority.
Key eligibility factors for all candidates are approval by the Soldier's commanding officer (rank of O-3 or above); at least 18 months remaining on active duty after surgery (or in conjunction with an executed reenlistment action); and no adverse personnel actions pending; at least 18 years of age; and the ability to meet all pre-operative and post-operative appointments.
Active-duty military must be available for at least three appointments after surgery:
Aca,!Ac For Lasik, post-op appointments at one day, one week, and one month.
Aca,!Ac For PRK, post-op appointments at one week, one month, and three months.
After Lasik surgery, active-duty personnel receive a six-week non-deployable profile, and those giving PRK receive a three-month non-deployable profile.
Some service members who have already had laser surgery expressed some concerns. The number one concern has been, "What happens if I get wacked in the eye'" A second question is whether the procedure is permanent. "Keep in mind that there is a 15 percent chance of regression," Psolka said.
The surgery, which normally takes approximately five to eight minutes per patient for PRK and ten to 20 minutes per patient for LASIK, is painless. Psolka said ophthalmologists place a small drop of anesthetic in each eye to numb the eyeball. Although patients are conscious throughout the procedure, they are given a sedative prior to the surgery to keep them relaxed.
The pain after surgery has been described as having something foreign in your eye, such as an eyelash and sensitivity to light. To treat the eye from post-operative discomfort, doctors prescribe a painkiller, artificial tears, and a steroid drop to prevent inflammation and help relieve pain.
"Patients are quite surprised after surgery, when they realize they can actually walk themselves out of the operating room. Although their visual recovery is not at 100 percent soon after the procedure, it doesn't take to long before patients can start sporting their 20/20 ability instead of a prescribed set of designer glasses," Psolka said. "Our percentage rate for patients seeing 20/20 is at about 90 percent," Psolka said.
A team of three doctors in the EENT clinic has treated over 1,500 active-duty personnel per year since 2003. Psolka has personally treated over 1,000 patients, performing laser surgery on approximately 2,100 pairs of eyes.
Active-duty personnel from other military installations are eligible for laser surgery at Darnall Army Medical Center. They are placed on Temporary Duty orders to Fort Hood.
To make an appointment for laser surgery, active duty military should contact the EENT clinic at (254) 286-7952 or from the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center website www.crdamc.amedd.army.mil. You can also visit the clinic located on the second floor in CRDAMC.
Family members and retirees are not eligible for the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program.