By Bobby Hanafin, Veterans Issues Editor
Veterans Today has learned that when it comes to force readiness National Guard and Reserve units are still treated as weekend warriors by the active duty Military Medical Community.
Several months ago we did a story on how Oregon National Guard Troops were questioning what they viewed to be Army Weekend Warrior Health care. The situation escalated when politicians in Oregon demanded a Pentagon investigation into why active duty troops were receiving superior medical treatment compared to Guard members. Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader sent joint letters to the Inspector General of the Army, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) demanding an investigation after their offices uncovered evidence that Joint [Air Force-Army] Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State treated active-duty soldiers superior to National Guard members and Reservists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that were allegedly getting inferior medical treatment. With a little damage control on the part of military medicine the situation blew over. That was then this is now.
More to the point Veterans Today has learned that while qualified active duty Airmen, and Soldiers are granted the option of having Lasik eye surgery to improve their vision and no longer require eye glasses on the battlefield, National Guard and Reserve warriors are denied such access.
We have to raise the question once again as to WHY are active duty troops given priority over Guard and Reserve troops when it comes to unit combat readiness and access to decent medical care?
Readers please note that the very idea of giving troops access to corrective vision surgery is not cosmetic or a nice thing to have in order to make our troops look better, but essential to improve our troops and units, combat readiness capability.
Veterans Today believes this falls in the same category as not providing our troops with adequate body armor or unarmored vehicles during the first few years of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Simply put if the justification were not for combat readiness, we contend that the military services would not be offering this potential improvement in force readiness on tax payer dollars to any of our troops regardless if they are Citizen Soldiers or Regular Army, Air Force. While on the subject of using tax payer dollars to pay for Lasik eye correction for our active duty troops, keep in mind that our National Guard and Reserve members also pay federal taxes.
Before I outline the current situation, I wanted to note that Veterans Today has written a story about at least one effort by Vietnam Vets in one state (Arizona) to ensure troops in the Arizona National Guard are given the option to have Lasik eye surgery before they deploy to a combat zone. ( Read Phoenix Clinic Provides Free Vision Correction For Military Personnel ).
Although we salute this commendable effort ay a group of Vietnam vets to provide free vision correction surgeries to members of the Arizona National Guard who are headed to the war zones (Yes, Iraq is still a war zone regardless what the administration wants to call it.) Veterans Today also strongly feels that it is not fair and equitable for any Veterans group, or group of concerned citizens, to feel they need to provide a service that improves combat readiness in their state Guard units when active duty troops are offered corrective surgery as part of overall Force Readiness.We’ve gone down this road before with private citizens and Veterans groups providing body armor and other protective gear to our troops, because the Pentagon or state governments were not doing their jobs and obligations of taking care of our troops.
Now, if Veterans groups and Support Our Troops efforts in each state and territory where Guard and Reserve units come from chose to do this in lieu of the federal government (Pentagon) then at least someone is taking on the responsibility of ensuring Guard and Reserve Unit Readiness before they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. However, it could be argued that these efforts though gallant are not standardized throughout every state Guard units come from, and more so is the responsibility and obligation of each Governor, State Adjutant General of the National Guard, and State Legislature to ensure Guard troops combat readiness before they deploy to combat. If the State governments desire to lobby and press the federal government to cover the cost of Citizen Soldier readiness by footing the bill for corrective vision, Veterans Today feels this is appropriate. It frankly makes no difference which pot of tax dollars pays for our Guard and Reserve troops to be combat ready as long as they are treated, trained, and prepared no different from Regular Troops.
Regardless, who funds Guard unit readiness (private citizens, Veterans Groups, State Legislatures, or the Pentagon Defense Budget) the point is an equity issue.
The Pentagon has come to over rely on our National Guard troops and overextend our citizen soldiers in ways, operations tempo, and multiple combat deployments unheard of during the Vietnam War just in order for Pentagon leadership to not have to turn to Congress and the President and say, “We need to implement selective service – the draft – in order to provide our Citizen Soldiers AND Regulars breathing room and proper time needed to prepare physically, mentally, and medically for WAR.
To say that our Guard and Reserves ARE NOT the weekend warriors such units may have been during Vietnam is an UNDERSTATEMENT, and we owe it to our Citizen Soldiers today to treat our Guard and Reserves with as much respect and dignity that we treat our REGULAR active duty troops with much more than lip service or slapping faddish ribbons on our vehicles.
We are not doing so when private citizens or Veterans groups take on responsibilities of taking care of Guard and Reserve troops to ensure they have body armor, adequate equipment, or Lasik eye surgery. Such is not the obligation of private citizens for WE as tax payers who have already contributed to the war effort via funding the ever increasing Defense Budget each year.
No one is going to convince Veterans Today that funds, regardless how scarce, cannot be diverted from weapons systems R & D to TRICARE Reserve Select to ensure all our troops are combat ready even as the Pentagon calls for raising TRICARE premiums on all military retirees. If active duty medical facilities need extra funding to prepare Guard and Reserve units for combat readiness then simply request the additional funding or manpower.
While on the subject of Pentagon budget cutters wanting to raise premiums for TRICARE, we know that every military retiree advocacy group under the sun is going to fight this, however we have not found one military advocacy group, not even the National Guard Association of America, who has taken up the cause of our Guard and Reserve troops being considered unworthy of the dame combat readiness preparation as active duty troops.
This is not a readiness issue that Veterans Today can trust the Pentagon to fix on its own, so we need to pass legislation, or better yet an Amendment to the Defense Budget that will demand that TRICARE RESERVE SELECT and/or active duty medical facilities that offer corrective vision surgery for combat readiness grant the same access to Lasik Eye Surgery to Guard and Reserve troops as is currently offered to active duty troops.
The primary reason given exclusion of Reserve and Guard units from such treatment is they lack enough retention on active duty to qualify. Veterans Today supports any effort to waive this time in service requirement as being discriminatory to Guard and Reserve members. There is no reason outside of who will pay for it that our Guard and Reserve members continue to be treated as second class citizens when they are Citizen Soldiers.
ROBERT L. HANAFIN, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, U.S. Civil Service-Retired, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network.
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U.S. Military Laser Eye Surgery Policy Discriminates Against Guard and Reserve Members
Due to the complexity of this issue of how our Citizen Soldiers (Guard and Reserve) are treated quite differently than Regular Active Duty Troops that should have a simple FIX; this article and expose will be in two parts.
First I will cover the details of an issue that is complex and should not be this confusing. The Second part will be justification why Guard and Reserve troops need to be treated equitably with active duty troops when it comes to combat readiness that could be used by a Congressional Representative to draft legislation or an amendment to the Defense Budget to expand TRICARE Reserve Select to cover corrective vision procedures under the same terms as active duty military facilities do, but with a waiver of time remaining on active duty to reflect duration of deployment to a combat zone as being adequate to satisfy the excuses given by the Pentagon for not allowing Citizen Soldiers access to Lasik and related procedures.
What is the Problem? Why are Guard and Reserve Troops treated as NO PRIORITY when it comes to combat readiness?
I was first informed of this discriminatory practice by a long time fellow Veterans Activist and personal friend Vietnam Vet Paul ‘Buddy’ Bucha who gave me the background on this situation, why he felt it was WRONG to treat our citizen soldiers this way, and pointed me towards a proactive Veterans Activist who truly Supports All Our Troops, David L. Thomas. Dave happens to head up LCA vision that is the parent organization of LasikPlus Vision Centers, and a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project by providing free laser vision correction to Wounded Warrior alumni, wounded U.S. military veterans, and their spouses or caregivers.
Dave a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West point and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of LasikPlus, explains his decision to support this cause: “With two major military operations in play, more and more U.S. servicemen and women are coming home with life changing injuries. What many don’t realize is that even simple daily tasks such as putting on glasses or contact lenses are virtually impossible due to a wide range of injuries for thousands of our heroes. LasikPlus is doing our part to help these men and women alleviate one less daily burden while enhancing quality of life.”
Now Dave Thomas is seeking the help and assistance of nation-wide Veterans advocates, Veterans Service Organizations, and Congressional Representatives in the House and Senate to expand efforts such as LasikPlus to cover state National Guard, and Reserve unit personnel BEFORE they deploy to potential combat. Dave is a man with a mission – a young former military officer, who is on a QUEST to remove glasses from battlefield for all our troops – active duty, Guard, and Reserve.
Dave has been trying to help design legislation that would make this a reality. He is working closely with several Congressional staff members including Rep. John Larsen of Connecticut, but given the atmosphere in Congress to cut cost, Dave is going to have to fight and uphill battle to get Congressional sponsorship and co-sponsors, so Dave is going to need all the help he can get.
Dave Thomas is the expert to turn to on the technology, surgical procedures, and safety of Lasik eye surgery. However, he needs help in articulating the problem and designing a legislative appeal. I decided to assist Dave and Buddy Bucha by taking a closer look at what current DoD policy really is toward our Guard and Reserve members, is it really discriminatory, and why are active duty troops going into combat given superior combat readiness preparation than Guard and Reserve members?
The first place I looked was TRICARE Reserve Select and besides saying that Guard and Reserve members did not qualify for refractive surgery TRICARE gave no explanation as to why active duty troops qualify for such force readiness corrective vision treatment but Guard and Reserve members did not.
I got a more definitive response from the U.S. Army Medical Department that established the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program in 2001. My knee jerk reaction when I noted the program was called Warfighter, yet Guard and Reserve members have been excluded from it is:
The Pentagon evidently does not consider Guard and Reserve members to be Warfighters?
Digging deeper, I noted that
“eight Army surgical centers offer photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, and laser keratomileusis, or LASIK, on a limited basis to qualified military applicants.
However, it was this part that raised my eyebrows,
“Readiness is the primary reason for offering laser surgery to soldiers: they perform better if they don’t have to worry about breaking eyeglasses, losing contact lenses, or fogging of glasses and lenses at crucial moments. As well, not having to wear glasses removes concerns about their compatibility with night vision goggles, gas masks, aiming devices and other military systems.”
This tells any reasonable person that since READINESS is the primary reason for offering laser surgery to soldiers that when the Pentagon (well Services) exclude Guard and Reserve members the Regular Military Services evidently do not want Guard and Reserve members to be able to perform better and safer in combat.
Guard and Reserve members will have to continue to worrying about breaking eyeglasses, Guard members will have to worry about losing their contact lenses or eyeglasses making them virtually blind on the battlefield endangering not only themselves but fellow Soldiers. Guard and Reserve members are going to have to worry about their glasses and contacts fogging up at crucial moments in combat. Lastly, Guard and Reserve combat troops will have to concern themselves with the compatibility of their eye glasses with night vision gobbles, gas masks, aiming devices and other military systems should the loss of their contacts or glasses nearly blind them.
The Walter Reed Center For Refractive Surgery gave more of a cosmetic justification for providing active duty troops with refractive surgery to improve their vision. The Center For Refractive Surgery gave this explanation,
” Traditionally, people with imperfect vision have had to rely on glasses or contact lenses in order to see the world around them clearly. While corrective lenses work fine for some people, others find them unappealing, inconvenient, or limiting. These people may benefit from refractive surgery; a range of procedures designed to permanently correct visual problems. Not everyone is a candidate for refractive surgery, and there are many issues to consider before deciding to undergo a procedure.”
Nowhere does the Walter Reed Refractive Eye Surgery Program mention the justification of force readiness or that having improved vision could save a Soldier’s life and the lives of the troops around him or her.
Wishing to dig deeper and get the big picture as to why Guard and Reserve combat troops were excluded from this program I went to FAQs. Here I found the right question asked and honest responses given even if I felt this was blatant discrimination against Guard and Reserve members. Heck, even the wording used was insulting to our National Guard and Reservists.
Can I have refractive surgery?
You are eligible for the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program if you are [active duty] AD, non-Guard or Reserve (except for AGR personnel who are eligible). However conditions do apply so please see the eligibility section in this site.
This is a mission readiness program for AD personnel only.
I am activated National Guard, how do I get surgery?
Unfortunately at this time you are unlikely to be eligible for surgery under the Warfighter Program. A basic requirement is that you must have at least 18 months left on your AD tour at the time of your surgery. At the present time the waiting period is approximately 12 months so you would require a minimum of 30 months in AD status.
Veterans Today Editorial Comment: This is not right, it is discriminatory to our Guard and Reserve troops, and discrimination is based on anywhere from a 12 months to 30 month active duty status that should be waived for Guard and Reserve members going into a war zone – PERIOD.
Bull crap, if this sort of discrimination is to continue then there should be a medical requirement that potential recruits for Guard MOS’s: 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 21, 51 and 88 not wear eyeglasses and have perfect vision without corrective lenses. If a potential Guard or Reserve recruit may potentially need to be deploying to a hostile environment in support of the Global War on Terrorism said recruit must have 20/20 vision. In short, no one who wears glasses or is color blind can enlist in combat MOS’s. However, there would be nothing preventing them from enlisting in combat support MOS’s or AFSC’s.
Do National Guard or Reserves have priority?
No. Guard (full time or part time) and reserves are generally not eligible for surgery under this plan.
We have been told the lame reasons that Guard and Reserve members need not apply for corrective vision making them more combat ready. The next part of my article will be the justification as to why Guard and Reserve troops must be covered by TRICARE Reserve Select and treated no different from their active duty counterparts.
Bobby Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, Editorial Board Member,Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network