If you have poor vision, having laser assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) can you qualify your dream career in the U.S. military.

You can have this laser eye surgery to correct nearsightedness, astigmatism or farsightedness, whether you’re in the military or looking to join one of the branches of service. Corrective LASIK surgery brings your vision to the levels necessary for safety and success in operations such as flying planes, driving armored vehicles or performing other eye-centric duties involving high-tech electronics.

Can You Have LASIK and Be in the Military?

You can have LASIK and serve in any branch of the U.S. military. If you develop an eyesight issue while in the military, don’t worry. Surgical vision correction isn’t a basis for discharge from the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

The Department of Defense encourages members with refractive errors to consider having the procedure. It runs about 26 laser centers that offer LASIK and other refractive surgeries.

Provided that you meet the applicable medical and administrative criteria for surgery, you can have it to correct your vision. You may need a waiver for LASIK to resume certain duties in the military. Waivers are a request to have corrective eye surgery, with military approval, so that you can continue your military career.military family

Why Glasses and Contacts Are Hard in the Military

With most civilian jobs, you can lose or break your prescription glasses without endangering yourself or your colleagues. It’s different in the military because the stakes – life and death – can be so high.

Imagine your glasses dislodging while you’re in a firefight or on a parachute drop. Excellent vision in many of these scenarios is necessary. Without it, you put your life and that of your fellow troops at risk.

Contact lenses aren’t a good option for combat, either. Wearing them exposes you to risks of eye infection.

While contacts and glasses can correct refractive errors, wearing them in active deployment is considered too dangerous. Besides the high risk of breaking or loss in austere environments, reliance on eyewear can work against you in a host of other scenarios in the military.

Among them:

  • Foggy weather may compromise your vision when on glasses.
  • In case the enemy captures you, they could remove your glasses, reducing your capability to function or escape.
  • Effective use of night-vision goggles is difficult when wearing glasses.

Why Choose LASIK for Military Personnel

If you’re farsighted, nearsighted or have myopia, you’ll need vision correction to serve in the military. Choosing LASIK over glasses has multiple benefits. They include:

  • Reduced reliance on glasses: After successful LASIK, you can see well and perform your duties without therapeutic eyewear. Most troops that have this procedure improve their vision to 20/20.
  • Enhanced survival chances when captured: Your captors can’t remove glasses you aren’t wearing to compromise your vision.
  • More military career options: Dependence on glasses or contacts for perfect or near perfect vision can disqualify you from certain roles in the military. If you have a refractive error, LASIK gives you a chance to have a stellar career in aviation, Special Forces, or infantry.
  • Higher operational safety: LASIK helps improve your safety and effectiveness in active deployment, whether on land or under water.
  • Peace of mind/convenience: LASIK eliminates concerns over breaking, losing, replacing, or updating your prescription glasses.
  • Painless treatment: LASIK is a 30-minute painless procedure with a recovery time of not more than a few weeks.
  • Reduced risk of infection: Wearing contact lenses exposes different parts of the eye to infection. LASIK eliminates this issue.

LASIK and Military Service by Branch

If your vision is below the “mission-readiness” standard for a specific role in the military, it disqualifies you for that role.

But if you’re otherwise eligible for the particular job, you may boost your qualification chances with appropriate vision correction. The minimum vision specifications across all branches of the military are as follows:

  • Distant vision that can be corrected to at least 20/40 with eyeglasses
  • Near vision that be corrected to at least 20/40 in the better eye
  • Refractive error (hyperopia or myopia) of not more than -8.00 or +8.00 diopters
  • Astigmatism of not more than 3.00 diopters

You cannot enlist in the U.S. military if your vision doesn’t meet the above criteria. Also, any vision problem whose only treatment is contact lenses will automatically disqualify you from service.

Each branch of the military may set additional vision requirements for certain jobs, including combat and non-combat specialties. Here are some examples:

U.S. Army

Military Job Vision Specification
Army pilots 20/20
Special Forces and Ranger divers 20/20
Infantrymen 20/20 in one eye, 20/100 in the other

 

U.S. Air Force

In compliance with flying safety standards, the air force has strict vision acuity requirements for aviators. Pilots must have distant vision of at least 20/70 in each eye, which can be corrected to 20/20. Near vision of 20/20 without correction is mandatory.

U.S. Navy

To enlist in the Navy, you should have vision 20/40 in your best eye and 20/70 in worst eye. These refractive errors should be correctable to 20/25.

All navy aviators must have visual acuity correctable to 20/20 or better.

U.S. Coast Guard

Minimum vision acuity requirements to join the coast guard include:

  • 20/400 uncorrected vision or better in both eyes
  • Distant vision correctable to 20/40
  • Refractive error of plus or minus 8.00 diopters or better

If you need to improve your vision acuity for a military job that doesn’t allow wearing glasses in deployment, LASIK may be your best bet. This procedure is available to all active-duty service members of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines under the DOD’s Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery (WRESP) program.

Is LASIK Covered by Insurance for Military Personnel?

Like other federal employees, military personnel can easily purchase vision insurance. Many providers, such as TriCare, only cover medically necessary procedures and don’t cover refractive eye surgery plans, even with riders.

This doesn’t mean LASIK insurance is 100 percent unavailable. LasikPlus provides this coverage to active-duty and retired military personnel at a discount.

When Is the Best Time to Get LASIK if You Are Already in the Military?

Several medical and administrative factors determine the best time to have LASIK while on active duty in the military.

To be eligible for LASIK under WRESP, you may apply with at least six to 18 months left on active duty. The eligibility window can vary by military branch and specialty.

When thinking about the timing of the procedure, you must consider your vision stability, something LASIK specialists consider important because it can impact treatment success. Doctors want to ensure you corrective prescription hasn’t changed in the previous 12 months.

You must also make your commanding officers aware of surgery before scheduling it. The timing should account for the roughly six weeks you’ll need to rest, follow up with your doctor and recover full vision.

Recovery After Lasik

You may gain perfect or near-perfect vision within three days of having LASIK surgery. Your treated eye can feel a little sore for one or two days because of the trauma.

For most people, the treated eye needs from a few days to six weeks to heal. Protective eyewear is recommended to prevent debris from injuring the treated eye.

You should see your doctor the next day after LASIK for evaluation.

Alternatives to LASIK for Military Personnel

Individuals with refractive errors may not be medically eligible for LASIK. Alternative refractive surgeries/treatments available in the military include:

  • Intraocular collamer lens (ICL): Surgical placement of a plastic lens into the eye.
  • Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK): Modifies the shape of the cornea.
  • Small Incision Lenticule Extraction (SMILE): Surgical removal of a piece of corneal tissue to reshape the cornea.

FAQs

  • Does LASIK disqualify you for military service?

    Not really, but a waiver for LASIK may be required to enlist or resume active duty. While you cannot return to work immediately after surgery, you should after full recovery without post-operative complications.

    The U.S Air Force even scrapped the LASIK waiver requirement for its airmen. Once someone’s vision has stabilized, they can go back to flying.

  • Can you have laser eye surgery in the military?

    Yes, you can have laser eye surgery in any branch of the U.S. military. The DOD set up 26 military laser facilities for this. Available treatments include LASIK and PRK.

References

Military Laser Eye Surgery: Enhancing Vision Readiness. (July 2021). U.S. Army.

Laser Eye Surgery: Provides Clarity for Active Duty Service Members. (March 2021). Military Health System.

Medical Standards for Military Service: Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction. (March 2018). Department of Defense.

Vision and Safety Eyewear Guide for U.S. Army Civilian and Military Job Series. (January 2016). Army Public Health Center.

How Bad can my Vision be to Qualify for the Air Force? U.S. Air Force.

Qualifications & Requirements. U.S. Navy.

Change 165 Manual of the Medical Department U.S. Navy. (June 2018). U.S. Navy.

Common Disqualifying Medical Conditions. United States Coast Guard Academy.

Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery (LASIK Clinic). Army Medical Center Darnall-Hood.

LASIK, PRK Waivers not Required. (July 2018). Travis Air Force Base.

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