Veterans deserve qualified health care

Dear Editor,

It has come to my attention that the Veterans Affairs department in Washington is considering loosening the standards for eye surgeries at VA hospitals by allowing optometrists – who are not MDs or trained surgeons – to perform eye surgery on our veterans. In my professional opinion, it is reckless and unsafe to allow anyone but ophthalmologists to perform surgery on veterans’ eyes.

As a military spouse, I spent many years working at the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, NC. I served active-duty soldiers, as well as veterans. In the pharmacy, it was my job to ensure that our active-duty soldiers and veterans, were equipped with the correct medications. 

This experience informs my resolve to ensure that only qualified health professionals provide care to one of America’s most important assets: veterans.

The issue of allowing optometrists to perform eye surgery is no different than my experience at Fort Bragg, where only qualified pharmacists were allowed to package the medications for deployments. I respect all health professionals; however, we must ensure that professionals with the proper training are working within their scope, especially at the VA. Otherwise, it puts our veterans’ health and safety at risk. 

When it comes to eye surgery, that means leaving it to ophthalmologists, who have years of advanced medical education, hospital internship, and residencies that prepare them to perform delicate surgical procedures.

I strongly urge our elected officials – especially Senator Cassidy who serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is himself a medical doctor – to ensure that the VA does not implement policies or changes that would allow optometrists to operate on our veterans. The risk is too high. Our veterans deserve the best care available. They protected us – now we need to protect them. 

Kathy Johnson