Vision Care Guide for Veterans

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Veterans & Vision: What are the Benefits?

Since 1944, veterans have received vision benefits from the federal government. This was the year when President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order providing services and training to blinded service members to help them deal with the challenges they faced.

Today, that support is available to blind and low-vision veterans who need assistance with day-to-day functioning. The Veterans’ Association’s Office of Blind Rehabilitation Services works with more than a million blind and low-vision vets.

Additionally, all veterans receiving VA health care benefits receive coverage for routine eye exams and preventive vision testing, including glaucoma testing. Coverage might also cover the cost or partial cost of corrective eyewear.

Vision services offered by the VA include everything from primary eye care services to intermediate and advanced clinical vision care.

What Eye Conditions Commonly Affect Veterans?

The eye health issues that most frequently affect veterans include:

  • Loss of one or both eyes, eyelids, eyelashes, and brows
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Lacrimal gland and lid disorders
  • Ptosis
  • Conjunctivitis and any related conditions
  • Corneal conditions
  • Inflammatory eye conditions or injuries
  • Retinal conditions
  • Neurologic conditions that affect vision
  • Tumors and neoplasms
  • Age-related macular degeneration

Many health issues cause secondary eye health conditions that are common in veterans, including:

  • Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts
  • Sarcoidosis causes uveitis and optic neuropathy
  • Lyme disease causes retinal vasculitis and optic disc edema
  • Cerebrovascular events (stroke) causes blind spots
  • Thyroid problems cause double or blurred vision, protruding eyes
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes changes in vision, optic neuritis, and gradual loss of vision
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes thinning of the cornea
  • Blast-related/Traumatic brain injury (TBI) that cause vision problems

Additionally, there are medications given to vets that tend to increase the risk of eye health problems. These include:

  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Antidepressants
  • Medications for seizures, ulcers, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, organ and bone transplants, and arrhythmia
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Topamax/Topiramate
  • Flomax/Tamsulosin
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Corticosteroids
  • Minocycline

What is the Veterans Affairs Department? Does it Support Vision Care?

The Veterans Affairs Department is an agency of the federal government that provides support and services to former members of the military. The Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated healthcare network in the country and has more than 1,250 health care facilities serving nine million enrolled vets each year.

Additionally, the VA offers a range of other benefits intended to help vets transition back to civilian life when they return home. This includes help transitioning out of military service, and assistance with education, home loans, life insurance, and more.

The VA also operates a network of national cemeteries through the National Cemetery Administration and offers burial services for vets and their eligible family members.

The VA’s “Fourth Mission” is to improve the preparedness of the country to respond to war, terrorism, national emergencies, and natural disasters. It does this by providing continued services to veterans and supporting national, state, and local emergency management, public health, safety, and homeland security efforts.

The VA has provided preventive and routine vision care since it was founded.

Who Qualifies for VA Vision Care Services?

Anyone who qualifies for VA health care benefits is eligible to get some or all of their vision care covered. This includes routine eye exams and preventive vision testing (like testing for glaucoma). 

People with advanced vision problems might be eligible for additional services and support.

What Types of Vision Care Services Does the VA Offer? 

Vision services offered by the VA include everything from primary eye care services to intermediate and advanced clinical vision care, including:

  • Clinical examinations
  • Vision-enhancing devices
  • Specialized training in the use of innovative vision technology
  • Inpatient rehabilitation centers focused on enhancing skills such as communication, orientation, and mobility, as well as manual skills and recreational/daily living activities for blind veterans

Will the VA Pay for Glasses & Contacts? 

VA healthcare benefits include coverage for the cost of eyeglasses. To qualify for coverage for eyeglasses a vet must:

  • Have any compensable service-connected condition
  • Be a purple heart recipient or former prisoner of war
  • Receive benefits under Title 38
  • Receive an increased pension due to the need for aid and attendance
  • Have vision problems caused by an injury for which they receive VA care
  • Have functional or cognitive impairment severe enough to make everyday tasks difficult
  • Have vision loss severe enough to interfere with one’s ability to take an active role in their healthcare and glasses make doing so easier
  • Receive VA care for stroke, diabetes, MS, vascular disease, or a geriatric chronic illness

Are Routine Eye Exams Covered by the VA?

Yes. Anyone receiving VA healthcare benefits is entitled to routine eye exams and other preventative vision testing services. Vets who wish to schedule an eye examination can do so by contacting their primary care provider or their local VA medical center or clinic. 

The VA provides more advanced vision care services to vets with blindness and low vision.

Other Ways to Get Help With Vision Care

Vets who need more than the services they are provided through their VA benefits have several options. For example, coverage is available from:

  • VSP provides routine and advanced care at a national network of more than 31,000 providers that includes annual exams, contact lens and eyeglass prescriptions, 20 percent off frames, savings on sunglasses, and discounts on LASIK and other laser procedures.
  • EyeMed provides routine and advanced care at vision clinics around the country that includes 40 percent off additional pairs of eyeglasses, 20 percent discount on the additional cost of eyeglasses frames, and 5 to 15 percent off of LASIK or PRK services.
  • EyeCare America provides free eye exams and up to a year of care for seniors 65 and over with a high risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Lions Club International provides help paying for eye care through local clubs across the nation.
  • New Eyes provides money to help low-income people pay for eyeglasses.
  • Mission Cataract USA provides cataract surgery to low-income people in need.
  • Operation Sights provides cataract surgery for low-income people in need.
  • Medicare provides basic healthcare coverage to everyone over 65 and vision care to those with diabetes, macular degeneration, or a high risk of developing glaucoma.

If you aren’t sure what benefits you’re eligible for, you can speak to your local VA office.

Resources
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VA Vision Care | Veterans Affairs.” Veterans Affairs, 13 June 2019.

Get Help Paying for Eye Care | National Eye Institute.” www.nei.nih.gov.

Vision Loss.” www.research.va.gov.

Healthy Vision | National Eye Institute.” www.nei.nih.gov,.

US Department of Veterans Affair: VA Benefits and Healthcare: Optometry. “Optometry Home.” www.va.gov.

LOPS Insurance Service. CHAMPVA Supplement Insurance Plan. “What is Champva Supplement Insurance Plan?

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