There are a bunch of different ways to look at refractive surgery. If you are involved in any type of activity that may involve head trauma or high winds (sky diving, football, rugby or any other type of extreme sport) PRK (photo-refractive keratotomy) is the way to go. From an aviation standpoint that is the only approved type of refractive surgery, as well as for diving/EOD/BUDS.
LASIK (laser in-situ keratotomy) has the fastest recovery time and is the least painful (I've had LASIK myself). It is not approved for aviation (pilot, navigator or aircrew) or any type of special operations due to the risk.
The difference between the two, in LASIK a flap of the cornea (the outer layer of the eye) is cut and pulled back before the laser burns away part of the eye to correct the vision. There is a possibility that the flap can pull away even after its healed, as the cornea will never heal back as strong as it was before being cut. With PRK they just burn away the outer layer of the cornea to correct the vision. It takes a little longer to heal, as its basically just an open wound.
So its really a personal choice, PRK is cheaper than LASIK, and PRK can correct vision that LASIK can not.
The physical standards have changed in the past year, refractive eye surgery is now acceptable 6 months after surgery as long as the post-reftactive sugery eye exams are stable over the 6 months after surgery. Also your refractive error (the prescription of your glasses) needs to be within standards prior to the refractive surgery.
My personal thoughts on the matter, wait until you are in an SA and get it done free. Currently the USNA, USMA and USAFA are all doing refractive eye surgery on cadets and midshipmen during their junior year. I'm not sure about USMMA or USCGA.
Doc, Will NAMI accept privately done PRKs prior to entering the Academy for flight school? My understanding is that for Aviation, PRKs must be done by the military after the eyes have "matured" or as close to graduation as possible.
I had kept pretty close contact with NAMI during my time at DoDMERB, and in previous years you would have been correct, but since the standards were changed for entrance into the SA's and ROTC's, NAMI also had to change with the times. As long as the refractive error was within standards prior to surgery and the refractive error stays stable 6 months after the surgery (again, PRK is the only surgery approved for aviation) there should be no problem. I don't know if its still a disqualification for aviation that requires a waiver or not. I'll have to look into that and get back with you.
One thing you have to remember, your eyes continue to grow (as does the rest of the male body) untill 18-20 years of age. A lot of places will not do refractive surgery until you are at least 20 years old. I'm sure you will be able to find someone who will be willing to do it, but the risk is that your vision will get worse as you continue to grow.
Doc, After I made the above post, I went back and reread the NAMI website keeping what you said about the rules changing in mind. They HAVE changed with the times. It is a waiver, however, and with the eyes continuing to grow after admission to the Academy, I will continue to STRONGLY encourage candidates to let the Navy handle the surgery. NAMI does state that ROTC is out of pocket only. Good to know. Thanks for the update. You mentioned the male body continuing to grow. Does this not apply to females? Also, I had not idea that 1/3 of the class was getting the surgery.
Here is where I make every woman happy, most females muture physically by the age of 18, males by 21.. These are only averages of course, but ask any woman and they'll tell you that males don't mature till 60!!