- The VA & Vision Care
- Routine Eye Exams for Veterans & Their Families
- Eyeglasses & Contacts for Veterans & Their Families
- VA Coverage Options
- Common Eye Injuries, Problems & Disorders Among Military Veterans
- VA Treatment Options
- Service Animals for Veterans
- VA Telehealth Services
- Frequently Asked Questions
After 24 months of active duty, an active service member or a veteran can qualify for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). There are many benefits that a veteran can potentially qualify for through the VA, including basic vision care.
The VA & Vision Care
If a veteran or active-duty service member qualifies to become a member of the VA, they will receive VA health care. VA health care covers regular checkups with a primary care provider as well as special care appointments. Routine vision care is also included.
Routine eye exams and preventive tests are always covered under VA health care. Additionally, and depending on the circumstances, some members of the VA also qualify for special rehabilitative services for blind veterans and service members. If a VA member sustained a serious eye injury or if they develop a vision condition as a result of service while on active duty, they are entitled to receive benefits and, in certain cases, compensation for their injuries.
If a VA member is visually impaired as a result of an active-duty injury, the VA will evaluate the vision impairment by testing the following:
- Visual acuity: This involves the anatomical loss of one or both eyes, the light perception in one or both eyes, or severe vision loss in one or both eyes.
- Visual field: This includes irregularities in the visual field, losing some or all of the field of vision, and scotoma, which is a blind spot in the field of vision.
- Muscle function: This is done by testing for double vision, which is when the muscles controlling the eye movements are not coordinated.
If it is decided that a VA member is eligible for benefits due to partial or complete visual impairment, a member may expect to receive the following rehabilitation and prosthetic services:
- Eligibility to sign up for clinical evaluation and research programs
- Blind rehabilitation services and continued care
- Adaptive equipment to help regain independence
Routine Eye Exams for Veterans & Their Families
Veterans who are VA members are able to receive routine eye exams. These exams require an office visit where a medical professional checks vision, screens for eye diseases such as glaucoma, and can update eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions.
Immediate family members of a veteran receiving VA benefits may also qualify for health care benefits, including routine eye exams and preventive screenings. There are a couple different coverage options for immediate family members:
The TRICARE program is run by the Department of Defense’s Health Agency. It provides extensive health coverage that includes health plans that are similar to regular insurance plans and access to prescription medications. TRICARE provides routine eye exams for family members every two years.
The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
CHAMPVA is a viable option for an immediate family member of a veteran with disabilities or a veteran who has passed away. This is a cost-sharing program that people who do not qualify for TRICARE and fit in with the aforementioned scenario commonly utilize. CHAMPVA only covers medical eye exams if one is required for a medical diagnosis.
Other alternative health care programs, such as the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), do not offer routine eye exams or vision coverage for veterans or family members.
Eyeglasses & Contacts for Veterans & Their Families
Veterans and their family members have a few options when it comes to getting corrective eyewear.
Even though VA health care covers routine eye exams, it does not automatically cover the cost of eyeglasses and contacts. In order to qualify for eyeglasses or contacts coverage, a veteran must meet at least one of these special requirements:
- Is a recipient of the Purple Heart medal
- Was once held captive as a prisoner during war
- Is disabled from time during active duty and currently receiving VA compensation for the disability
- Suffered an injury or had an existing injury get worse while receiving VA medical care, which is highlighted in Title 38 United States Code (U.S.C.) 1151
- Is housebound, bedridden, or needs assisted living and has received an increased pension
There are also several issues that could help a veteran qualify for full eyeglasses coverage through VA health care:
- Developing a vision ailment from a health issue or injury for which the veteran is already receiving VA health care
- Is not able to fully function and conduct everyday tasks
- Has severe vision or hearing loss issues
- Has visual acuity worse than 20/40
- Has an average visual field radius of 40 degrees or less
Contact lens prescriptions are different than prescriptions for eyeglasses since the actual lenses are situated at different distances from the eye. A veteran who is covered by VA health care can be covered for contacts if they have one of the following ailments:
- Aphakia: This involves not having a lens inside of the eye.
- Severe astigmatism: This is an imperfection in the curvature of the eye’s cornea or lens.
- Pathologic myopia: This involves degenerative changes in the back of the eye that reduce vision.
- Keratoconus: The cornea thins and then bulges into an irregular shape that causes vision loss.
- Aniseikonia: This occurs when the image size perceived between the eyes is different due to unequal magnification.
A veteran might also qualify for contact lens coverage if they fit these criteria:
- Have a significant corneal pathology or deformity
- Are a recipient of a corneal transplant
- Have a refractive error difference between the eyes or irregular astigmatism
- Have an ocular or vision condition that heavily interferes with health
VA Coverage Options
There are four main health care coverage options for veterans of the military. These plans can be used along with private insurance plans, such as Medicare or Medicaid.
1. VA Health Care
Under VA health care, a veteran or immediate family member is covered for regular checkups with a primary care provider, including routine eye exams. Appointments with medical specialists for specific ailments are also covered.
2. VA Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA)
CHAMPVA is a VA shared cost program that has a comprehensive coverage plan that includes outpatient and inpatient services, mental health services, maternity care, nursing and hospice care, and ambulance expenses. CHAMPVA features two vision plans that both cover routine eye exams. Each plan also offers discounts on eyeglasses and laser surgeries.
3. Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program (SBHCBP)
SBHCBP is a VA program that is exclusively intended for birth children of veterans who served in Korea or Vietnam who have been diagnosed with spina bifida (SB). The program provides monetary allowances, vocational training and rehabilitation, and health care benefits. Vision coverage is not included in SBHCBP.
TRICARE is a program that unites the health care resources of the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency with a network of civilian health care professionals, institutions, and pharmacies. Comprehensive coverage is provided to all beneficiaries who are enrolled in TRICARE. Routine eye exams are included once a year for active-duty family members and every two years for retired service members and their immediate family.
If a veteran enrolled in any VA health care plan has a sudden life change that affects their income or has increasing out-of-pocket costs for family health care expenses, financial hardship assistance is available.
Common Eye Injuries, Problems & Disorders Among Military Veterans
Studies have shown that around 1 out of every 19 veterans has had a significant injury while serving in active duty. The following injuries can be common among veterans who took part in combat:
- Corneal abrasions
- Cut, scratched, or bruised eyelids
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging
- Punctured eyeballs
- Acute hyphema
- Partial or permanent blindness
Although not as common, other problems and disorders can also develop over time. This can happen from direct exposure to trauma during combat, exposure to chemicals or debris, and as a result from certain medications that are used to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These problems and disorders may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Reduced field of vision
- Sensitivity to light
Macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, strokes, and diabetic retinopathy can also cause older veterans to lose vision over a period of time. However, these ailments are also common among non-serving senior citizens as well.
VA Treatment Options
In addition to basic health checkups and procedures, VA health care provides treatment options for a wide array of conditions, including PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, and the psychological effects of military sexual trauma (MST).
The VA also offers treatments that are specific to eye health. Some treatments can be completely covered if they are for an ailment that was the result of an incident during active duty. These are eye treatments that may be covered:
- Steroids and other topical treatments for eye trauma
- Laser or incisional surgeries for glaucoma
- Corrective laser eye surgery, such as PRK or LASIK
- Cataract surgeries
- Vitrectomy for advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy
- Laser photocoagulation for age-related macular degeneration
In certain cases, vision rehabilitation to help restore the functional ability and improve the quality of life of a veteran who is visually impaired can also be covered.
Service Animals for Veterans
Certain veterans can be approved for service dogs if they need assistance due to physical injuries or auditory ailments. Guide dogs can also be approved for veterans who have lost their vision.
A veteran who has been medically approved for a service dog or a guide dog can potentially receive the following for the dog:
- Comprehensive veterinary services
- Annual appointments for preventive and maintenance care
- Urgent care
- Prescription medications
VA Telehealth Services
Many veterans, especially veterans who are older or disabled, can benefit from the VA’s telehealth services. Telehealth allows health care providers to provide care for a veteran without an in-person office visit.
Veterans are able to meet virtually with a health care specialist from the comfort of their own home. A video appointment can be conducted that assesses all health concerns, including eye health. Medical professionals are also able to monitor vital signs through remote patient monitoring.
Telehealth technologies are also available in clinics and hospitals. This allows local medical professionals to collaborate with specialists from all over the country, ensuring veterans get the proper expertise they need.
Vision Care for Veterans FAQs
Are routine eye exams covered under VA health care benefits?
Routine eye exams and preventive tests are included with VA health care benefits. Special rehabilitative services are also provided for qualifying candidates.
Will the VA cover the cost of eyeglasses?
VA health care benefits do not include coverage for eyeglasses. However, the VA can contribute to eyeglasses under certain conditions and can fully cover eyeglasses if the glasses are a requirement as a result of an injury sustained during active duty.
Does the VA cover the cost of hearing aids?
Hearing aids, batteries, and repairs are all covered through VA health care if a specialist determines that the veteran needs a special hearing device.
Can family members take advantage of VA health care benefits?
Immediate family members are covered through VA health care. This includes spouses, dependents, and family caregivers.
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CHAMPVA Guide. (July 2021). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Cognitive Impairment Among Veterans in Outpatient Vision Rehabilitation. (June 2021). Optometry and Vision Science.
Eye Disorders in Old People. (November 2013). Global Journal of Health Science.
Eye Exams. (September 2019). TRICARE.
For Many Injured Veterans, A Lifetime of Consequences. (November 2011). Pew Research Center.
Health Care Coverage Options for Military Veterans. (2022). HealthCare.gov.
Measuring Outcomes of Vision Rehabilitation with the Veterans Affairs Low Vision Visual Functioning Questionnaire. (August 2006). Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.
Prescribing and Providing Eyeglasses, Contact Lenses, and Hearing Aids. (October 2019). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services. (September 2021). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Health Care. (January 2022). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Telehealth Services. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Vision Care. (October 2022). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Title 38 U.S.C. 1151 Claims. (October 2022). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Vision Plans. (2020). MILOPS Insurance Services.
Visual System, Central. (2012). Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences.
Eye Care Productivity and Access in the Veterans Affairs Health Care System. (January-February 2017). Military Medicine.
Veterans’ Eye Health. (November 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Last Updated February 2, 2023
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.
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