WASHINGTON, May 20 Eye wounds andcombat-related vision loss have been among the most common types of injury forAmerica's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq andAfghanistan. On May 19, 2008 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center inWashington, D.C., U.S. Rep. John Boozman, O.D. (R-AR), incoming AmericanOptometric Association (AOA) President Peter H. Kehoe, O.D, and othernationally prominent doctors of optometry met with Department of Defense (DoD)health officials to discuss the current state of military eye and vision carefor America's wounded warriors facing combat-related eye trauma and visiondamage associated with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Since 2002, nearly 1,350 courageous American military personnel havesuffered combat eye trauma and were evacuated from overseas militaryoperations. An increase in road-side bomb and improvised explosive device(IED) attacks on American troops has resulted in TBI quickly becoming known asthe "signature injury" among soldiers returning from the front-lines ofOperation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Standingshoulder-to-shoulder with Rep. Boozman, the AOA is committed to a long-termleadership role in helping to ensure that American military service personnelwounded in U.S. conflicts receive the highest quality and most advanced eyeand vision care.
Highly attuned to this growing problem, Rep. Boozman, a senior member ofthe House Committee on Veterans Affairs, sponsored the Military Eye TraumaTreatment Act, a part of legislation approved by Congress and signed into lawon January 28, 2008 (Public Law 110-181). The law establishes a nationalCenter of Excellence dedicated to providing military and Department ofVeterans Affairs (VA) eye doctors and eye health teams with the bestinformation on the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up for each serious eyeinjury received by any member of the armed forces while serving on activeduty. The new law also calls for a patient-centered joint initiative torespond to visual dysfunction related to TBI between DoD and VA healthofficials and facilities.
"Traumatic Brain Injury has become the hallmark injury among America'swounded warriors returning home from the front-lines of our currentconflicts," said Rep. Boozman. "The treatment of TBI, and the vision issuesderiving from it, is important work that the DoD and the VA should worktogether and provide leadership on. Genuine coordination between the two isvital to ensuring effective treatment for our men and women who wear, and whohave worn, the uniform, including those that have suffered serious eyeinjuries," Rep. Boozman added.
By some estimates, more than half of all service personnel wounded as aresult of blast exposure in Iraq have sustained a TBI, although the overallincidence of TBI in all wounded soldiers remains to be determined. Inprevious wars when blast exposure was thought to be a less common cause ofsurvivable injury, including Korea and Vietnam, overall TBI rates in injuredsoldiers have been estimated at about 20 percent or less.
According to the VA, more than 70 percent of service members treated forTBI at their Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, CA have developedvision dysfunction, while it has been reported in the past that over half ofthose treated for TBI at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center have developedvision-related complications. TBI is a type of severe blast injury in whichthe eyes do not necessarily suffer cuts or contusions but often severe brainconcussion affects nerve pathways related to sight.
The AOA, the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and the National Alliancefor Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) strongly supported the enactment of Rep.Boozman's bill, and urged congressional leaders to make it a top priority lastyear. Since its enactment, these organizations, working with Rep. Boozman,have been continually monitoring its