Doctors of optometry, veteran advocates salute U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for pro-access, pro-veteran policy changes

August 28, 2020
New guidance sets pathway to restore veteran access to therapeutic laser eye procedures provided by doctors of optometry

ALEXANDRIA, VA (AUG. 28, 2020) – The American Optometric Association (AOA), the nation’s eye health and vision care authority representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometric professionals, and optometry students, applauds the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for taking positive steps toward affording the nation’s veterans with the same access to therapeutic laser eye procedures enjoyed by other Americans, including those with coverage provided by major health insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, the Indian Health Service and a range of other public and private payers.

On August 18, the VA rescinded its policy limiting veteran access to the services and in its place issued a new directive, setting a pathway to expanded and assured access to sight-saving care based on full recognition of the physician education, training and skills of doctors of optometry. The VA’s move is one in a series of access-focused efforts, including an April 2020 policy underscoring that veterans are best served when all VA doctors of optometry and other essential care providers deliver care with full practice authority.

“On behalf of America’s more than 20 million veterans and their families, AMVETS is proud of and applauds the VA for its recent and decisive move toward ensuring that more of our veterans have access to the full range of eye care services, including laser eye procedures, that doctors of optometry are ready, willing and fully able to provide,” said Joe Chenelly, AMVETS National Director. “AMVETS is committed to ensuring that our veterans have access to the care they need, where and when they need it–and we’re happy that VA is increasingly joining us in that mission.”

A growing number of states have recognized that therapeutic laser eye procedures can safely and effectively be provided by local doctors of optometry, while offering much greater patient access to these treatments when and where patients need them–a particular benefit to underserved patients. Therapeutic laser eye procedures include:

Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT), a procedure used to lower intraocular pressure which can serve as an initial treatment or when eye drop medications are no longer lowering eye pressure enough or are causing significant side effects.

Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet (YAG) laser capsulotomy, a procedure performed to treat cloudy vision that may remain after undergoing cataract eye surgery. YAG is a quick and painless outpatient procedure that, in most cases, is effective at restoring vision back to normal.

“As leading advocates for veteran access to high-quality eye health and vision care, AOA commends the VA for taking important steps to continue to modernize care and its delivery in VA facilities,” says William T. Reynolds, O.D., AOA President. “Doctors of optometry, who deliver more than 80 percent of primary eye health care in America, are trained and qualified to safely provide the full breadth of eye care services, including therapeutic laser eye procedures, and our veterans have earned and deserve access to that care.”

With an eye on continuing to advance access to safe and effective care for veterans, the AOA will continue to work closely with the Armed Forces Optometric Society, AMVETS and other Veterans Service Organizations, and other veteran-focused groups to continue to advance access to the care that veterans need, where they need it.

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About the American Optometric Association

The American Optometric Association (AOA) is the leading authority on and advocate for quality eye health care, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and optometric professionals. As the sole primary eye care provider in many communities across America, doctors of optometry are often a patient's first entry point into the health care system, and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat, and manage disorders, diseases, and injuries that affect the eye and visual system. Through nationwide public health awareness activities, AOA reinforces the importance of eye health and vision care and the overall health benefits of in-person, comprehensive eye examinations with AOA doctors of optometry for all Americans.

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