Lasik // Eye Surgery at the Academy


10-Year Member
Sep 29, 2006
Hi. I was just wandering (sorry if this was posted before) but, does the Air Force Academy allow laser eye surgery for those in their junior year at the academy? I know that USNA does it, and so it opens up alot of flying opportunities. Does USAFA do the same?

First, thanks for your efforts on this forum and others. On the issue of PRK for pilot wannabe's, I read on the AFA web site that there are strict pre-operative limits. Do you have any idea how bad your eyes can be before the PRK option is beyond the limit for someone wanting to be a pilot?
I can't state the actual limits, but I believe the surgery brings you up one level. You go from navigator qual to PQ or commission to navigator. So you can go from 20/200 to 20/20 or +4 to 0 refrac to be PQ.
Follow-up question

My son is currently looking at going to the USAFA but only got a "Commision Qualified" status after his DODMERB exam. As being a pilot is his plan, he'd need some assurance that he can "work his way up" to PQ status before attending. Are you saying that if you enter the AFA at the CQ level, you can't make the jump to PQ? Even with the surgery?

Dknightfam said:
My son is currently looking at going to the USAFA but only got a "Commision Qualified" status after his DODMERB exam. As being a pilot is his plan, he'd need some assurance that he can "work his way up" to PQ status before attending. Are you saying that if you enter the AFA at the CQ level, you can't make the jump to PQ? Even with the surgery?


With the rules changing constantly, with the possible exception of an answer from RetNavy HM, this is not the question to ask on this forum. Contact DodMERB and The AFA Admissions office. With that said, the current USNA catalog lists eyes surgery as an automatic DodMERB disqualifyer.

Good luck to your son.
Thanks - I posted the situation on the DODMERB site too

and hope to hear from RET'd soon.

BTW - I was not suggesting surgery before attending the SA - just wanted to know that if he got in and spent two or more years there, and got the surgery then, that he'd still have a chance to fly....

Sorry, I over reacted. I get petrified when candidates start discussing eye surgery.
Well I just replied over at the DoDMERB section, but I can also put a couple little bits and pieces here.

Refractive surgery is done at USNA, USMA and USAFA (those are the ones I'm aware of) during a cadet/midshipmen's second class year (junior year). I do not know what the standards are to be eligible for the refractive surgery. I was involved with the initial study group at USNA when PRK was first being offered to a select number of midshipmen, and I can tell you that there were midshipmen who were not aviation qualified at all who were granted waivers (refractive eye surgery was a disqualification at the time) for Student Naval Aviator (pilot). I do not know what the AF requirements are, but I would assume that if, after refractive eye surgery, you met all the vision requirements for pilot, that they would make you eligible for that slot.

The USNA catalog has some erroneous information regarding refractive eye surgery. The current Department of Defense Instruction that DoDMERB uses, states that if an applicant is 6 months status post refractive eye surgery, and his refractive error is stable over those 6 months, it is not a disqualification. Also the applicant’s refractive error must have been within the commissioning limits prior to refractive surgery.

For any applicants who are considering this I will pass my thoughts on the matter. For males - if you are below the age of 20 you are still growing, so if you get refractive eye surgery, your vision will still change and could possible change enough during your 4 years of school that you will not be pilot qualified. For females - you are usually done growing by 18 so this wouldn't be as much of a concern. If you want to get the refractive eye surgery and you have an interest in the military you must get PRK. LASIK is a disqualification, with no waivers ever granted for aviation, diving, special warfare/ops, submarines.

So for the bottom line, I would not recommend refractive eye surgery for any applicants. Wait until your junior year at the academy, and let the government pay for your surgery. This way if there is a complication, the government will fix it at their expense.
Right after Thanksgiving my son went to a grassroots here in the DC area. There was a firstie there who discussed the pilot selection process. It was the same as what my son was told at Summer Seminar. Then it was brought up that people would start getting their phyiscal by the end of there 3* year so they would know if they were going to pilot training or not before their 2* year begins.

The when the question of waivers for eyesight were brought the firstie's asked his dad to step in. The father works the waivers for the AF, the reason for LASIK is a no go for flying was the fear that if you were to eject out of an aircraft the wind blast could damage your eyes since the they cut the eyes and PRK doesn't. The father (I assume he was a GO) said the AF had a study that was about to publish this month about flying and LASIK.

The funny thing was he brought up the world class athlete at the zoo is there on a waiver for scoliosis. She got the waiver because she was an athlete, normally they would DQ her. He used this to say that all waivers are on a case by case basis.
Just a little clarification on the types of surgeries:

LASIK - a flap is made in the cornea (the front of the eye) by the surgeon using an instrument called a microkeratome (there are some machines that do this by laser now) and then the laser is used to resurface the eye.

PRK - no flap is made, the laser resurfaces the cornea directly.

Lasik is less pain and usually both eyes are done on the same visit. PRK can have a very painful recovery time for some, patients usually go home on some type of narcotic pain control and also have a contact placed in their eyes as a 'bandage'. Both "cut" the eye.

The 'problem' with aviation and LASIK is the flap. There has been some work on the stability of the flaps with ejections; however, the concern is that the flap could become dislodged and effectively make the pilot blind. After LASIK it is possible to have the flap dislodge if poked in the eye, easily remedied by an ophthalmologist. Now there have been some case reports of pilots from other countries (Israel I believe) who ejected and did not have the flap dislodge. I unfortunately don't have any info on the AF study that they quoted, but I'll try to find it.

I agree with what was said above, let the services do it, if something goes wrong they will fix it. It will also ensure that the service member gets the correct procedure for their future career.
Its been about a year now and I was wondering if anyone knew anything more about LASIK/PRK performed by the Academy. I heard on a recent radio commercial that Laser LASIK was recently approved by the government for special ops and pilots. My vision is currently 20/400, so I was also curious if this was just way too bad for them to even think about giving me any type of eye surgery at the Academy. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thank you.
You could get PRK here assuming no other issues keep you from being eligible from the surgery itself. Still no word on LASIK.
No matter how bad your vision is, they will give you PRK? Assuming you qualify everywhere else.
PRK is only available for people with horrible vision. 2 dig in my squad got PRK because her vision was 20/200.
My mother the nurse tells me that in order to get either surgery your vision needs to be stable for two years as well. We found some official Air Force document some time ago that detailed all the requirements, but it may be obsolete by now. I'll see if I can dig it up somewhere.
As of current policy LASIK is still not allowed for pilots and aircrew. Most of the studies to get this approved are being performed at Naval Medical Center San Diego. The most recent information I have been hearing though is some reports out of some of the Army bases that they are having difficulty with soldiers who have had LASIK, so this may delay or cause a little more scrutiny for LASIK in aircrew.

As to PRK: as long as you are otherwise qualified any prescription will get you the surgery. You don't have to have "horrible" vision. In fact if you have "horrible" vision you probably wouldn't qualify (I'm talking over 7-8 diopters or worse than around 20/400). The reason for this is that the worse your prescription the more cornea that has to be removed.

As far as I know the fact that you have had surgery does not move you up only one qualification level. If your new eyesight is 20/20 then you are pilot qualified.
By "horrible" I mean reaching out of the navigator qualified. People that are just outside the pilot range usually get waivers and/or are denied PRK HERE. I suppose that's because of limited spots. Kind of a wierd system.