Letter to the Editor: Concern over VA lowering eye care standard for vets

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by Kathy Johnson

It has come to my attention that the Veterans Affairs department in Washington is considering loosening the standards for eye surgeries at VA hospitals by allowing optometrists – who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons – to perform eye surgery on our nation’s veterans. In my professional opinion, it is reckless and unsafe to allow anyone but ophthalmologists—medical doctors specifically trained in eye surgery—to perform surgery on veterans’ eyes.

Though I have lived much of my life here in Louisiana as a military spouse, I spent many years working at the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I served numerous active-duty men and women, as well as veterans. In the pharmacy, it was my job to ensure that our front-line heroes, as well as our veterans, were equipped with the correct medications. 

This professional experience informs my resolve to ensure that only qualified health professionals provide care to one of our nation’s most important assets: veterans.

To me, this issue of allowing optometrists to perform eye surgery is no different than my experience at Fort Bragg, where only qualified pharmacists were allowed to package the medical bags for deployments. I respect all health professionals and their crafts; however, we must ensure that professionals with the proper and most in-depth training are working within their scope, especially at the VA. Otherwise, it puts our veterans’ health and safety at risk. 

When it comes to eye surgery, that means leaving it to ophthalmologists, who have years of advanced medical education, hospital internship, and clinical and surgical residency training that prepares them to perform delicate surgical procedures.

I strongly urge our elected officials – especially Senator Cassidy who serves on the influential Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is himself a medical doctor – to ensure that the VA does not implement policies or changes that would allow optometrists to perform eye surgery on our veterans. The risk is too high. Our veterans deserve the best care available. They protected us – now we need to protect them.