U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of the Surgeon General
Skip Navigation, go to content

Refractive Surgery FAQS

Refractive Surgery FAQS  

Question: Who can have refractive surgery?
Answer: You are eligible for the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program if you are Active Duty or AGR personnel.  However, conditions do apply so please see the "How do I enroll for surgery?"

Question:  If I’m retired from the military service can I have surgery?
Answer: No. This is a mission readiness program for AD personnel only at this time.

QuestionI am activated National Guard, how do I get surgery
Answer: Unfortunately at this time you are unlikely to be eligible for surgery under the Warfighter Program. A basic requirement is that you must have at least 18 months left on your AD tour at the time of your surgery.

Question: Do you have a waiting list?
Answer: No we don't have a waiting list. We have a priority list.

Question: Who has priority?
Answer: You need to be active duty and have a combat arms MOS (i.e. 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 21, 51, 88). Or you need to be deploying to a hostile environment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. If you do not fall into these categories you will receive refractive surgery if space is available. If your status changes at any time, please contact and inform your local eye clinic.

Question: I am a priority candidate, how long is the waiting time before I can have surgery?
Answer: It depends on if your commander has signed off on your authorization and when you for the surgery and have at least 30 days following for healing and recovery time.

Question: Are National Guard or Reserves eligible for refractive surgery?
Answer: National Guard (full time or part time) and Reserves are generally not eligible for surgery under this plan.  If your active tour is going to be longer than 18 months then yes, you would be eligible for refractive surgery.

Question: Do I need to have an eye exam before I apply for refractive surgery?
Answer: You need to have at least two stable eye exams over the last two years on record before you can apply.

Question: I am just about to retire and I would like to have surgery before my ETS date. How do I apply?
Unfortunately the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program is a mission readiness program and not an entitlement program. You must have at least 18 months left in AD status at the time of your surgery to be eligible.

Question:  Can I lose my best corrected vision (best vision with glasses or contact lenses)? How likely is that? 
:  Possibly. Published reports indicate up to 1% of patients may end up with a small decrease in their vision. For example: best corrected pre-operative vision of 20/20 could drop to 20/30, 20/40, or worse). For reference purposes: driving without glasses requires about 20/40 vision, while reading requires about 20/50 vision.

Question:  If I am doing fine with my glasses and/or contact lenses, should I consider this procedure? 
Answer:  Maybe, depending on your expectations. The realistic expectation of these procedures is to reduce (possibly eliminate) the requirement for glasses or contact lenses after accepting some risks associated with the surgery. Unrealistic expectations include: "I want to be guaranteed that I will never have to wear glasses or contact lenses again" or "I expect and demand 'perfect' vision after absolutely risk-free surgery." Clarify your expectations and then get information. Refractive surgery is not for everyone!  

Question:  Will I need to arrange time off from work?
Answer:  Personnel will typically be given up to 4 days of convalescent leave immediately following surgery. There will be additional time requirements (e.g.: pre-operative exam, consent briefing, etc) in addition to amount of days it takes to travel to and from the surgery center. All preoperative and postoperative appointments need to be coordinated and approved through your chain of command. You may return to your local military eye doctor (if available) for follow up appointments required after surgery.

Question: Is this treatment reversible? 
  No. Once the treatment is done, it cannot be undone. Modifications or "enhancements" of the original procedure may be done if required.

Question:  Is this treatment painful?
Answer:  No. The procedure itself is not painful (topical anesthetic is used). Postoperative healing for PRK does have some discomfort (generally mild to moderate for a few days). This discomfort is transient and pain relievers are provided. LASIK postoperative healing is generally painless.

Question:  Will I have to take eye drops afterwards?
Answer:  Yes. Most patients will typically be on at least four different eye drop medications. These drops will decrease rapidly to only one type of drop during the month after surgery. Individual postoperative courses and treatments may vary.

Question:  How long does this treatment take?
  The actual time in the treatment chair takes only a few minutes and is done on an outpatient basis (no hospitalization required). However, you will definitely need an escort to take you home the day of surgery and the day after surgery. NO ONE WILL BE ALLOWED TO OPERATE A MOTOR VEHICLE OR DANGEROUS MACHINERY AFTER LASER EYE SURGERY UNTIL THEY ARE INFORMED IT IS SAFE TO DO SO BY YOUR EYE DOCTOR.

Question:  Will I ever have to use glasses or contact lenses afterwards? 
Answer:  Maybe. The goal is to make you less dependent on glasses or contact lenses. The treatment may even eliminate your need for glasses, but that is NOT guaranteed. As patients approach the early 40s, they usually will need to start wearing reading glasses.

Question:  I'm active duty. If I get laser refractive surgery, is there a minimum commitment / retainability for continued active service before I can retire or separate?
Answer:  Yes. According to current Army guidance, to ensure a return on investment for the Army, a Warfighter Program Patient will have 18 months on active duty from the date of surgery.


These are just a few "frequently asked questions". More detailed information is available from your local military eye doctor - ophthalmologist or optometrist. More information is also provided in local preoperative evaluations.