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Optometry: Insight into eyesight

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – When vision and eye health are an issue, the Optometry flight at Peterson Air Force Base is ready to assist Airmen see their way through the process of getting needed help.

Many services can be obtained at the Optometry clinic. Routine eye care, eye health exams, glasses and contact lens prescription updates, and acute eye care are available for TRICARE Prime beneficiaries, with active duty personnel getting priority treatment.

Maj. Jeffrey Newsom, 21st Medical Group Optometry flight commander, said his team of two optometrists and four technicians can also handle acute care for things like eye infections and removing foreign bodies. Many patients do not know the optometrists can prescribe medication to treat eye infections.

“Optometrists are primary eye care providers,” Newsom said. “We can do anything from routine care all the way up to surgery. For surgery we have to send the patient to an ophthalmologist.”

The most frequent type of visit made to the office is for people who need new eyeglasses for military purposes, such as prescription gas mask inserts or prescription inserts for ballistic safety glasses. Retirees can also order glasses, even using prescriptions they obtained elsewhere.

Currently, Newsom said there is a Department of Defense-wide shortage of M50 gas mask inserts. The only people who can presently order them are those deploying within 30 days. He said there is no estimate for when the inserts will be openly available again.

One thing the clinic does not offer is fittings for new contact lens wearers. The time it takes to do the fitting and provide the instruction necessary for a new contact lens prescription is prohibitive.

Peterson AFB was selected about a year ago to participate in a test run of the Frames of Choice program on military installations. Newsom said the testing was successfully completed and it was decided which frames to offer. The new frame choices are on hand now for ordering for all active duty patients.

For people seeking photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK laser eye surgery, Newsom said his team can screen people for the procedure and the member can have the surgery performed at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which is conveniently close.

“We do a comprehensive exam here and make sure they are a good candidate for the surgery,” he said.

Soon it may become harder to get an optometry appointment, Newsom said. A shortage of optometrists within the Colorado Springs Multi-Service Market is expected to have an impact on access.

“Peterson will be fully manned, but Fort Carson and the U.S. Air Force Academy will be short optometrists,” Newsom said. “It will be harder for non-active duty personnel, retirees and dependents to get an appointment.”

For now, however, the shortage is not a significant issue. For appointments or questions, contact the Peterson Clinic main line at 719-524-CARE (2273) or 719-526-CARE (2273).

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