Federal Legislation Improves Tracking, Diagnosis and Treatment

A measure signed into law in early 2008 will improve the ability of the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administrations to treat those serving on active duty who have suffered serious eye injuries. The legislation, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, will establish a Center of Excellence within the DoD to improve the tracking, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up for service members who have incurred eye injuries while serving on active duty.

The legislation requires ophthalmologists in the DoD to report surgeries or other procedures to the registry within 30 days. Information relating to additional treatments, surgical procedures and eventual visual outcomes would be accessible by the DoD ophthalmologist who initially treated the patient, as well as any future ophthalmologist in the VA.

In addition to eye injuries, the registry will also cover blast injuries with visual symptoms. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is a potential location for the Center of Excellence, which will act as a central resource. The measure passed by Congress does not currently provide for funding for the center or registry.

Between October 2001 and June 2006, more than 1,000 service members with combat-related eye trauma were evacuated from overseas military operations, making serious ocular injuries one of the most common types of injury experienced by service members serving in the Middle East. Many combat eye injuries require multiple surgical procedures and treatments at several facilities.

A significant number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also experiencing vision impairment caused by traumatic brain injury (TBI); some 54 percent of soldiers treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who have traumatic brain injuries are reporting vision problems. As much as 16 percent of all soldiers returning from Iraq are experiencing significant vision dysfunction problems.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology joined the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and other veterans service organizations in support of the legislation.

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