VISION USA celebrates 25 years of service

VISION USA celebrates 25 years of service

"A VISION USA provider has a great opportunity to be recognized as someone who is not motivated by personal or financial gain to provide a beneficial service to their community."

Dana Cockè, O.D., recalls a man in his early 30s who came to his practice eight years ago, after a pebble hit him in the eye as he mowed his lawn. The accident had occurred a few months earlier, but the man delayed making an appointment because he had neither insurance nor money to pay, Dr. Cockè says.

Fortunately, he qualified for VISION USA, a program of Optometry Cares®-The AOA Foundation that provides free eye examinations to low-income and uninsured individuals. Under VISION USA, doctors of optometry volunteer their services at no charge to qualifying individuals. Dr. Cockè, who practices in Tacoma, Washington, examined the man and diagnosed a retinal detachment in one eye.

"I found an ophthalmologist who was willing to provide a free surgery consultation," says Dr. Cockè, who is not only a provider in the program but also serves as chair of the AOA's VISION USA Committee. "A state grant paid for the surgery."

It's that kind of outcome that makes the VISION USA program so meaningful to providers. During Optometry's Meeting®, June 29-July 3 in Boston, Massachusetts, VISION USA will celebrate 25 years of making a difference in the lives of thousands of people previously without access to optometry services. The celebration is set for 1-1:30 p.m., Friday, July 1, in AOA Central.

Expanding access
VISION (Volunteers in Service in Our Nation) USA's roots can be traced to a pilot program in Kentucky in 1985. Six years later, it expanded into a national project. The program is now available in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

Since the program's launch, doctors of optometry have made a difference for thousands of people. Here are some program milestones:

  • 430,000 patients have been examined by AOA-member volunteers
  • 2,800 community organizations have referred patients for care or services
  • 45,000 calls are received each year by the VISION USA helpline
  • 95 percent of applicants have been diagnosed with an eye condition
  • 79 percent of applicants need glasses
  • 3,000 doctors of optometry are providers in the program

"VISION USA continues to fill gaps in eye care that exist in states that either have Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act of 2010 or in states that decided not to expand Medicaid," Dr. Cockè says. "The committee continues to try to come up with new ideas for expanding to allow for its sustainability."

Earlier this year, three doctors of optometry were recognized with 2016 VISION USA Service Awards for their dedication and commitment to helping low-income families in their communities. Awardees include Jeffrey Long, O.D., of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Jessica Anne Kruse, O.D., of Allen, Texas; and Edward Weaver Jr., O.D., of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Dr. Long has been a VISION USA provider for about a year. Through the program, his practice provides two free exams and two pairs of glasses on average per week. It's also a natural fit with a mission he and his sons started four years ago: Servants Providing Eye Care Services (SPECS), he says.

"My staff and I enjoy helping others," Dr. Long says. "I'm blessed in so many ways, and to take a few minutes to provide an eye exam and a pair of glasses to someone less fortunate is an easy way for me to serve mankind."

Become a VISION USA provider
Doctors of optometry can join the effort.

For young doctors, being a VISION USA provider is a great way to build a practice, Dr. Cockè says. It's also a way of giving back.

"A VISION USA provider has a great opportunity to be recognized by his or her community as someone who is not motivated by personal or financial gain by providing a beneficial service to their community," he says.

June 14, 2016

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