Laser eye surgery became an option in the United States to correct vision in the 1990s. As time has progressed, laser eye surgery has become increasingly popular. However, if you have hopes of joining certain branches of the military, you may want to hold off on your surgery.
There are three main types of laser eye surgery.
- Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) PRK was the original laser eye surgery. It can help correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. In PRK, the cornea is reshaped by a light that enters the eye to focus on the retina. During this process, the entire outer layer of the cornea is removed. It will regenerate itself, but the recovery is slower than with other types of laser eye surgery, and it tends to be more uncomfortable. There are many benefits to PRK, however. While the healing process is longer, there is less chance for complications in the long run.
- Laser Epithelial Keratomileusis (LASEK) LASEK is a variation of PRK. They are very similar, except in LASEK, a very thin layer of the cornea is pulled back to make the correction, and then is put back in place. A special lens is used as a bandage to hold the thin flap in place while it heals.
- Laser Assisted in situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) In LASIK surgery, the flap that is cut goes deeper than in LASEK. Instead of just taking off the outer layer of the cornea, the flap is thicker and goes down into the next layer of the cornea. This type of laser eye surgery is the most comfortable of the three, and the healing time is shorter.
Vision in the Army
The Army does have standards on vision, but for most jobs in the Army, it is acceptable to correct vision using glasses or contact lenses if the vision problem isn't severe. Specific standards for eyesight are laid out in the Army Regulation Standards of Medical Fitness. Members have served with glasses, even on deployment. There is a slight inconvenience, especially with glasses fogging up. Some people would prefer to not have to rely on the corrective lenses, but that does not disqualify a person from enlisting or even deploying.
If you are interested in joining the Special Forces, you may want to hold off on that eye surgery. It will be very difficult for you to join Special Forces if you have had LASIK surgery. This type of surgery will automatically disqualify you from MMF (Military Free Fall) and Combat Diving due to the risk of complications with the flap that is made on the cornea. If you have had LASIK done, you are likely to be able to get a waiver signed to join Ranger School, Air Assault or Airborne.
The laser eye surgery of choice for the Special Forces is PRK. Though the recovery takes longer, there is less risk of damage to the eye since there is no flap to irritate. LASEK surgery is usually acceptable as well. If you are seen as a priority, the Army may pay for your surgery to be done quickly and for free.
If you are interested in joining the Special Forces and have had, or are considering, laser eye surgery,like that done at Brandon Cataract Center & Eye Clinic, to correct your vision, be sure to contact your recruiter about your concerns.