— And What Veterans Can Do to Care for Their Eyes
FEBRUARY 3, 2024 – Due to exposure to stressful and risky situations, military personnel and veterans face a significant number of health challenges. For example, a previous post highlights how the military transition to civilian life can impact mental health as personnel confront changes in their roles and every aspect of their life, such as home and employment. This tremendous shift can then manifest as a loss of camaraderie, lack of stability, and adjustment disorders like anxiety and depression.
Aside from mental health challenges, vision problems can also be a consequence of military service. Although eyesight is crucial to military operations as one of the five major senses, it can be compromised by injuries and exposure to hazards. Below, we look at common vision problems related to military service and what veterans can do to address these conditions and take better care of their eyes.
Common vision problems in the military
An estimated 19 million veterans represent 10% of the total US population, and a majority of them suffer from service-related eye conditions. Specifically, research published in the journal Military Medicine notes that among the beneficiaries of universal insurance through TRICARE, 781,371 adults (74.91% of the population) were diagnosed with at least one vision disorder.
Refractive errors like myopia and age-related presbyopia had the highest prevalence, followed by eye conditions caused by infectious and inflammatory diseases. Other common diagnoses include cataracts, which is when the eye’s lenses become cloudy, and glaucoma, characterized by optic nerve damage that can lead to vision loss and blindness.
These vision disorders can have various causes, including direct eye wounds and injuries, exposure to hazards, illnesses contracted while serving, and medications taken from military-related conditions like seizures, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. Regardless of the cause, the degradation or loss of eyesight can affect veterans’ overall health and quality of life, making eye care crucial to their habits and lifestyle.
Some eye problems like glaucoma can appear years after service, making routine eye examinations essential for the ongoing monitoring of your vision health. While optical services can sometimes be inaccessible, veterans can use online tools to schedule an eye exam at their preferred time and date. Optical retailer LensCrafters allows patients to find the nearest store location, where they can get a comprehensive eye exam that does not only cover visual acuity but also checks progressive eye conditions for early prevention and management. Additionally, LensCrafters accepts most insurance plans, allowing veterans to use their vision care benefits for lower out-of-pocket costs.
If the comprehensive eye exam reveals problems in your visual field, visual acuity, or muscle function, it’s best to seek proper care and treatment to correct the eye condition and prevent it from worsening. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs continuously expands access to common corrective tools, such as eyeglasses. Through the 4-Sight software tool, eyeglass consultations and ordering can be automated to reduce waiting times by up to 53% and increase the efficiency of eyeglass delivery. Meanwhile, treatment and rehabilitation for conditions that can’t be corrected by eyeglasses alone are made accessible by the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Services (BRS) and vision clinics.
Diabetes is one of the most common service-related diseases, and its complications can also damage the eye’s blood vessels and lead to diabetic retinopathy. As such, on top of usual eye care practices, veterans must adopt a healthier diet and exercise regularly to manage their blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of retinopathy, which may otherwise lead to irreversible blindness if left untreated.
Despite the negative impact of military service on vision health, veterans can prioritize eye care to ensure lifelong health and well-being.