3080763 Eye Care 101: Understanding the basics

Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Fowler, 375th Air Mobility Wing public affairs, receives an eye exam at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois March 30, 2016. This exam is to check the eye for retinal holes, tears, scarring and other conditions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman Daniel Garcia)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

If you served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, chances are you have problems with your vision. If you’re over the age of 45, you’re probably noticing some issues with your sight too. Also, three-quarters of people with polytrauma or a traumatic brain injury report problems with their vision.

The upside of this is that most of these vision issues can be fixed by just wearing glasses. According to a study in ScienceDirect, 62% of vets who have polytrauma and 78 percent of those with TBI only need spectacles to improve their sight. So the next question is, can you get glasses at the VA?

Yes, you can. If you qualify for VA health care benefits, you can get all of your vision needs through Veterans Affairs.  Routine eye exams and preventative vision testing are all covered.  The VA will even help out if you’re a blind or low vision veteran too.  (It’s a whole different article on its own, but you can find out more about blind and low vision services the VA offers here.)

So, how do you qualify for free glasses? If you have a service-connected disability and you’re already getting VA disability payments, then yes… you get free glasses!  You also meet the requirements if you’re a former POW, been awarded a Purple Heart, get benefits under Title 38 or if you’re getting an increased pension because you’re permanently housebound.

There are other reasons the VA will pay for your glasses. If you have vision problems from an illness – or the treatment of an illness – and you’re already under care at a VAMC, you qualify.  The best thing to do is contact your medical center and schedule an appointment and let the professionals work it from there.

If you aren’t getting treatment through the VA, chances are you might have vision “insurance” to help keep costs down. It’s “insurance” because it’s not really insurance.  There are two basic types of plans.  Vision benefits package is very similar to insurance.

You pay a monthly premium and maybe a copay then the plan covers the rest. A vision discount plan is where you pay the full amount of the service yourself, but it’s at a discounted rate.

Choosing the right plan can be difficult. Make sure you pick one with a network of providers close to you.  It may not be much of a drag having to drive a long way once a year for your annual exam, but if there’s an emergency, close by is better.  You should also check for special services offered.  Do you want laser eye surgery or a specific type of glasses?

If you have a few different plans to consider, make a chart. Think about your medical history, based on this write down all the services you think you’ll need in the future.  From there you can check off if the service is covered or not but don’t forget to check on the frequency allowed by each plan as well.  Log copayments and any other fees.  With this side by side comparison, you can see which one works best for you.

The thing to remember, and this works for both services from the VA or another provider, if you have a question, ASK! It’s much better to ask a question then be surprised by an unexpected expense.  And if you haven’t signed up for VA’s health benefits, you can start the process right here.

Connect: @JonathanVets1 | Jonathan@ConnectingVets.com

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