By Lt. Col. Stephen Simpson, 6th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, optometry flight commander
/ Published May 13, 2020
Snellen eye chart, developed by Dutch eye doctor Hermann Snellen in the 1860s. There are many variations of the Snellen eye chart, but in general they show 11 rows of capital letters. The top row contains one letter (usually the "big E," but other letters can be used). The other rows contain letters that are progressively smaller. During an eye exam, your eye doctor will ask you to find the smallest line of text letters that you can make out, and ask you to read it. If you can read the bottom row of letters, your visual acuity is very good. (DoD graphic)
While individual operational readiness has achieved the status as a top priority for the Defense Health Agency and the Department of Defense, one very critical aspect of that readiness sometimes is forgotten: vision readiness.
Maintaining vision readiness through a routine eye exam is vital, since the visual system is arguably the most important, yet ever changing, sensor in the human weapons platform.
The vast majority of Airmen never have their vision checked beyond their initial vision screening upon entrance into the Air Force. Many Airmen go an entire career with only that one screening. Despite the fact that vision changes throughout life, and despite the fact that the visual system may be degraded at any time by dysfunction, disease, or injury, many Airmen do not take advantage of optometry services, either because it is not required, or because a degradation in vision performance may go unnoticed for years. This loss of function and performance often leads to decreases in productivity, lost time at work, and ultimately a reduction in medical readiness.
At any given time, an estimated 30,000 Airmen have an unmet need for spectacle correction, or an unknown vision readiness status. Optometry clinics across the Air Force continually monitor the readiness rosters for non-deployable Airmen and do a great job getting them in for appointments. However, for every exam that is completed, there can be many more Airmen across the force with visual system problems, even though they remain “green” in the database.
The American Optometric Association recommends routine eye exams in the population of people from age 18 through 60 every two years for asymptomatic or risk-free patients and every year for at-risk patients.
A comprehensive exam checks the health of the eyes for common diseases and evaluates the eyes as an indicator of overall health. Eye doctors can even detect chronic conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. When an eye exam is successfully completed, any required eyewear is ordered, including two pairs of spectacles, one pair of sunglasses, one gas mask insert and one ballistic insert. The prescription for those items is legal for two years, as determined by state and federal law.
A “fit to fight force” includes having optimum, comfortable vision to be medically ready to accomplish the mission. This includes having everything Airmen need visually to do their jobs, from spectacles to ballistic eyewear. Vision readiness exams help Air Force optometry achieve the goal of improving operational medical readiness and human performance by providing best vision.
The optometry clinic provides routine eye exams for active duty members. Appointments for retirees and family members are on a space-available basis. The clinic provides eyeglasses to active duty and retired members only. Routine contact lens exams and contact lens updates are available on a case-by-case basis. It is best to have a previous prescription and contact lenses available. Screening exams for LASIK/PRK surgery are available for active duty members. Appointments can be scheduled by calling the appointment line (813) 828-2273 or via TRICARE Online.