• VA Drops Eye Surgery Safety Language for Care Vets Receive in the Community


    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has modified its eye care guidelines for treatment from community providers, jeopardizing patient safety by allowing optometrists to perform some surgical procedures.

    Without seeking outside comment, the VA removed language last month from the Community Care “Standardized Episode of Care: Eye Care Comprehensive” guideline that has historically provided that “only ophthalmologists can perform invasive procedures, including injections, lasers and eye surgery.”

    This change is independent from the VA’s development of national standards of practice, a separate process the Academy is closely monitoring.

    We are concerned about the potential implications the community care policy change could have for the national standards currently being developed. By removing the clause limiting surgery to ophthalmologists, the VA is implicitly authorizing optometrists to perform ophthalmic surgery on veterans they refer under this program where permitted by state licensure laws. We estimate that about 10% of the U.S. population currently lives in states that allow optometrists to perform laser surgery.

    The Academy is concerned that the VA has removed an important patient safeguard, posing increased risk to veterans requiring surgical eye care.

    We sent a letter Monday to the VA’s new undersecretary for health, Shereef Elnahal, MD, outlining our concerns and urging the VA to immediately undo the change and restore the language that maintains the long held standard that only ophthalmologists can perform invasive procedures.

    Academy CEO Stephen D. Mcleod, MD, is reaching out to academic medical centers with VA affiliation to alert them to this issue.

    The Academy is committed to the fight to protect quality eye care for the nation's veterans, but we cannot do it alone. We need to hear from ophthalmologists who are veterans. Contact politicalaffairs@aao.org and tell us your story.

    If you are an ophthalmologist and a military veteran who will attend AAO 2022, come talk to us at the OPHTHPAC®-Surgical Scope Fund Booth in the Grand Concourse Level 3 at McCormick Place about how you can help us advocate on this important issue and get a free Starbucks gift card.