AOA backs legislative effort to expand veterans’ access to eye care

May 27, 2015
Legislation would boost VA optometric residency positions by 10% over the next five years.

The AOA is urging U.S. House members to co-sponsor optometry-backed legislation that would expand access to essential eye care for America's veterans.

The legislation "provides greater access and more timely care to our veterans."

Bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1688) introduced earlier this year by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) seeks to amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 by designating 20 of the 1,500 new graduate medical education residency positions to the field of optometry.

If this key AOA-backed legislation receives the attention that it deserves on Capitol Hill, the effort would boost the number of optometric residency positions in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by 10% over the next five years.

Additionally, because each of the 20 new slots would be filled under the medical residency expansion program that Congress authorized in 2014 to help alleviate extended wait times for needed care, the bill enjoys a cost-neutral status under Congressional budgeting procedures.

The legislation "provides a great opportunity for the optometric profession by providing greater access and more timely care to our veterans for the eye health and vision care they require," says Roger Jordan, O.D., chair of the AOA Federal Relations Committee.

Eye care clinics staffed by VA doctors of optometry are often busy places and VA officials increasingly recognize the importance of regular eye exams in helping to keep all veterans healthy and active, as was noted in a March 2015 health care advisory issued by the VA.

A growing need for eye care

Although VA doctors of optometry provided comprehensive eye exams and other essential care to more than 1.2 million veterans last year, the need for eye health and vision care is expected to grow further in 2015 and for years to come.

In fact, serious eye trauma is the second-most common injury among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 16% of all wounded service members experiencing problems ranging from distorted vision to blindness, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Additionally, the joint Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence has reported that up to 75% of all traumatic brain injury patients experience vision problems.

With more doctors of optometry available to see patients, AOA anticipates that H.R. 1688 would provide vital services and help decrease wait times for veterans to receive eye care.

Since the 1970s, the VA optometry residency program has been an especially cost-effective force multiplier in veterans' health care. Optometry residents are integrated into interdisciplinary health care teams, whose sole focus is to produce better outcomes. Today, 20 schools and colleges of optometry participate in formally accredited one-year optometric residency programs through the VA, treating veterans in more than 40 states.

The residencies are well recognized for sharpening the clinical skills of post-graduate doctors of optometry in dealing with specific ocular diseases and conditions. The optometry residency program in particular has also proven to be a strong recruiting tool for the VA as outstanding residents often seek full-time staff positions at VA facilities upon completion of their training.

How you can support the effort

The AOA, which highlighted the Denham/Kuster legislation (H.R. 1688) at the 2015 AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference this spring, has taken multiple steps to assure that veterans have access to doctors of optometry for needed eye health and vision care services.

AOA members can help build support for H.R. 1688 by urging their U.S. House members to co-sponsor this important legislation. One quick and easy way to do so is through the AOA's Online Legislative Action Center.

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