Prominent veterans’ and military groups are increasingly speaking out against possible new national standards of practice for optometry, a response to a Sept. 19 House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing on the topic.
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In statements submitted to the subcommittee, four veterans and military service organizations expressed their concerns over what the new standards would mean for veterans’ eye care. The organizations — the Blinded Veterans Association, the American Legion, Jewish War Veterans of the USA and the Fleet Reserve Association — have a combined membership of over 2.5 million veterans and retired and active duty military personnel.
The VA is developing national standards of practice for 50 health care professions, and the standards for optometrists, which have not been released, could allow VA-employed optometrists to perform eye surgery in VA health facilities. In some cases, the standards could supersede state laws that prohibit optometry’s ability to perform surgery.
In its statement to the committee, the Blinded Veterans Association wrote, “Our organization strongly believes that VA should not establish a standard that could lower the standard of care, particularly for surgical eye care services, available to veterans.”
Donald Overton, executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association, joined Academy CEO Stephen McLeod, MD, and Academy President Daniel J. Briceland, MD, in a meeting with White House staff covering veterans’ issues following the Sept. 19 congressional hearing. Dr. McLeod testified at the hearing.
The common theme among the four organizations is concern for how the new standards could lower the quality of eyecare in VA facilities and put veterans' eyesight and health at risk.
Here are some excerpts:
- Fleet Reserve Association: “We are extremely concerned that the VA seems to be on track toward establishing a national optometry standard that would allow optometrists to perform laser surgeries. Such a standard would put our nation’s veterans at substantial risk and be a complete reversal of long-standing policy that only allows ophthalmologists to perform therapeutic laser eye surgery in VA medical facilities. This significant change could result in serious adverse outcomes for patients. Eye surgery is one of the most difficult and delicate surgeries. Optometrists are not trained to provide these types of surgical procedures. Surgery should be reserved for surgeons. Eye surgery in particular is best left to trained and experienced ophthalmic surgeons.”
- Jewish War Veterans “remains concerned that VA wants to adopt a national standard of practice that could allow optometrists to perform surgery on the eyes of veterans, even though optometrists do not have the necessary level of medical education or surgical training to be a surgeon. While JWV acknowledges that optometrists play a very critical role in delivering quality eye health care for our nation’s veterans, we strongly believe that optometrists should not be allowed to perform eye surgery on veterans because they do not have the requisite training or medical degree to do so.”
Concerns over the development of the national standards prompted the American Legion to conduct a survey of 1,400 veterans, which found overwhelming support for physician-led care teams in VA health facilities.
As we await the release of the VA’s national optometry standard, the Academy is pleased to see veterans’ and military organizations express concerns over how these standards would affect VA eye care. We’ve long maintained our own concerns over the lack of transparency as the VA has discussed these standards and hope that the committee will consider the views of veterans when exercising its mandated oversight of the VA.