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Air Force Optometry History in 2020: “The Year of Optometry”

Air Force optometry came into existence around the same time the Air Force Medical Service stood up on July 1, 1949, and has been caring for the vision of aviators and warfighters ever since. 2020, ‘The Year of Optometry’, focuses on ensuring eye health and vision care are a priority. (Courtesy graphic)

Air Force optometry came into existence around the same time the Air Force Medical Service stood up on July 1, 1949, and has been caring for the vision of aviators and warfighters ever since. 2020, ‘The Year of Optometry’, focuses on ensuring eye health and vision care are a priority. (Courtesy graphic)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- -- Air Force Optometry came into existence around the same time the Air Force Medical Service stood up July 1, 1949 and has been caring for the vision of aviators and warfighters ever since.  Prior to that, even during World War II, enlisted hospital corpsmen without any formal training were providing limited vision care using crude equipment.  Between 1950 and 1960, the Air Force saw great improvements in both the type and quality of equipment available for optometry services and commissioned optometrists were added to the Medical Service Corps. 

In 1965, Air Force Optometry became part of the newly established Biomedical Sciences Corps and, by the late 1960s, Air Force Optometry achieved its end strength of 170 fully-trained active duty doctors of optometry providing for the visual welfare of more than 900,000 active duty Airmen.  Today, the Air Force Optometry Team, an optometrist supported by highly-trained ophthalmic technicians, applies extensive knowledge of unique Air Force operating environments to prescribe precision optical devices specifically designed to enhance performance, survivability, and lethality of Airmen.  The 142 optometrists and 236 ophthalmic technicians in the Air Force provide care for 2.6 million eligible active duty, dependent, and retiree beneficiaries around the globe. 

From their humble beginnings, Air Force optometry has blazed a trail that has led to incredible contributions in vision research, treatment, and protection.  Thanks to the tireless dedication to the team of eye care specialists, both past and present, they have been and will continue to be at the forefront of vision readiness.  For 70 years, the Air Force Optometry team has stood on the forefront of visual and medical innovations. 

“As we begin calendar year 2020, ‘The Year of Optometry,’ we hope that you will make your eye health and vision care a priority and ensure that your vision is 20/20 (or better!) in 2020,” said Lt. Col. Kerry Phelan, JSBA-Lackland Optometry Flight commander. “An eye exam is the simplest step you can take to protect your vision and to make sure that you are always ‘Fit to Fight.’”

For active duty members who want to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with their military optometry clinic, please contact the care line at (210) 916-9900.  Dependents and retirees are eligible to be seen at the optometry clinic on JBSA-Lackland without a referral.  Additionally, dependents of active duty who are enrolled in TRICARE Prime can also contact their local civilian optometry clinic that accepts TRICARE to have a comprehensive exam each year.  For retirees and their dependents, one comprehensive eye exam will be covered every two years at a civilian clinic.