LASIK and the Military
Military personnel must be in tip-top physical condition, and fumbling with glasses or contacts can be a burden to the duties of the job. The ability to see is important for all those serving in our armed forces. Traditionally, military personnel were restricted from having LASIK surgery because of the risks associated with the surgery. Today, after years of testing to ensure it is safe and effective for those who protect us, most active military personnel have the option to get LASIK procedures.
Each branch of the Armed Forces has its own policy regarding vision correction treatment:
US Air Force
The Air Force allows LASIK and recommends two types of LASIK surgery for aviation candidates: Wave Front Guided Photorefractive Keratectomy, or WFG-PRK, and Wave Front Guided Laser In-Situ Keratomileusis, or WFG-LASIK.
Restrictions or special waivers exist for soldiers who have had refractive surgery prior to entry into training programs for aviation, airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, HALO (high altitude, low opening), marine diving or combat diving.
Army Aviators: Only pilots who are enrolled in the USAARL approved protocol to follow PRK and LASIK throughout flight school would be allowed to have surgery. All other pilots are not eligible to have surgery. LASIK is currently disqualifying/non-waiverable for SOC schools (HALO, SCUBA, SFQC, and SERE).
US Coast Guard
All methods of laser vision correction can be waivered for accessions if Coast Guard personnel meet all other vision and eye policies.
US Navy & Marine Corps
The Navy supports LASIK for active duty personnel, as long as strict guidelines are followed. In general, PRK is acceptable, but LASIK is considered disqualifying for active duty in any Special Forces (air, sea or land) capacity, and for naval aviators. LASIK is not disqualifying for general duty positions.
Air National Guard
Air National Guard regulations regarding laser vision correction vary from state to state.
Officials from all the services stressed the importance of research before having any elective procedure. “Don’t rely on any one person, any one Web site, any one source to give you the entire story about the risks and the benefits,” Saenger said. “People really, really need to make an informed decision. It’s not like glasses or contacts that you can change if they’re not quite right.”