Interesting. Too bad the Canadian Forces doesn't similarly realise the BENEFITS of providing a similar service to Canadian troops (but, of course, I suspect some bean-counter would say it costs too much ... or that there's "no entitlement", since it's not covered by provincial health care programs ... ignoring the simple fact that provincial health care programs are not designed to produce combat-ready soldiers ...)
US soldiers flock to laser eye clinic
By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press | September 26, 2004
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Command Sergeant Major Kurt Pinero looked up from the operating table after laser eye surgery, and made out the pictures on the television screen across the room.
"It was amazing," said the 45-year-old Iraq war veteran. "It was the first time I could see that far since I was a child."
After months in the Iraqi desert fumbling with dusty contacts, smudged eyeglasses, and prescription goggles, soldiers by the thousands are flocking to get refractive eye surgery.
And the Army is picking up the tab.
"Our workload and number of patients has gone through the roof," said Major Glenn Sanford of the two-year-old Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Clinic at Fort Campbell's Blanchfield Army Hospital.
About 26,000 soldiers have undergone the surgery at Army clinics nationwide since it was first made available four years ago at Fort Bragg, N.C.
More than 9,000 of the operations have been done at Fort Bragg, and 8,000 other soldiers at the post are on a waiting list to have the procedure between now and January, when many are scheduled to be deployed.
The military sees this surgery as a way to help soldiers see better on the battlefield, where split-second decisions can save lives. Soldiers without glasses can also use instruments such as night-vision goggles with less trouble.
In combat, soldiers who lose their glasses are not only a danger to themselves, but also to others
Priority for the surgery is typically given to the soldiers most likely to be in combat. It is offered at eight Army medical centers, and at least 10 Navy and Air Force medical facilities.
The surgery costs the Army about $1,000 per soldier, compared with an average $1,785 per eye in the civilian sector.
In 1993, the military's first refractive surgery program started at Naval Medical Center San Diego. The surgery was done on Navy SEALS; many had problems with losing contacts or glasses while parachuting or in the water.
Of 450,000 active Army soldiers, an estimated one-third are potentially eligible for surgery, said Colonel Kraig Bowers, refractive surgery consultant for the Army surgeon general.
But with its current funding, the Army can treat only about 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers a year.
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Torres, an optometrist who has analyzed surveys of soldiers who have been deployed with and without the surgery, said they say overwhelmingly that it was a benefit.
"We look at this surgery as a performance-enhancing procedure that gives us a soldier that's better able to function," said Torres, chief of refractive surgery at the Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash.
The two procedures commonly done by the military are photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, and laser keratomileusis, or LASIK.
In PRK surgery, a laser is used to reshape the surface of the cornea. LASIK involves cutting a flap in the cornea and using a laser to reshape exposed tissue before the flap is put back.