The vision requirements for military service are typically set in stone, however there are a few vision waivers depending upon the circumstances, the job, and the experience and education level of the candidate seeking enlistment or commission.
There are two common waivers for vision, and both are laser eye repair surgeries that have evolved to the point at which the technology enables people with poor vision to serve in military professions for which near-perfect vision is a requirement like pilot or special operations:
- LASIK: Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis is an operation on the eyes that corrects the shape of the cornea so that it bends light properly.
- PRK: Photorefractive Keratectomy is the predecessor to LASIK but is still performed today and is waiverable after a six-month recovery process and review.
Both surgeries reshape the cornea with a laser, and can help you if you are near-sighted, far-sighted, or have astigmatism.
PRK Versus LASIK
The United States started performing laser eye surgery in 1995 and has a very high success rate. The military started accepting waivers for this eye surgery in 1997 on a trial basis with special operations (SEAL, EOD, and Diver, for example) candidates and then for pilots. Now, it is an acceptable surgery for all candidates seeking service in the military.
PRK and LASIK have both had significant advancements during this time and remain an option for many people who wear glasses and have disqualifying eye vision. PRK and LASIK results are similar. Most people achieve 20/20 vision after PRK surgery, and nearly all patients achieve 20/40 visual acuity or better. Both are within vision standards of the military specialty jobs.
Current distant visual acuity of any degree that does not correct with spectacle lenses to at least one of the following (International Classification of Disease [ICD] code 367) is cause for rejection or disqualification:
- 20/40 in one eye and 20/70 in the other eye (ICD 369.75)
- 20/30 in one eye and 20/100 in the other eye (ICD 369.75)
- 20/20 in one eye and 20/400 in the other eye (ICD 369.73)
However, for entrance into a military academy, distant visual acuity that does not correct to 20/20 in each eye is disqualifying. For entrance into ROTC programs and OCS/OTS, distant visual acuity that does not correct to 20/20 in one eye and 20/100 in the other eye is disqualifying.
Current near visual acuity of any degree that does not correct to 20/40 in the better eye (ICD 367.1 to 367.32). Current refractive error (hyperopia (ICD 367.0), myopia (ICD 367.1), astigmatism (ICD 367.2x)), in excess of -8.00 or +8.00 diopters spherical equivalent or astigmatism in excess of 3.00 diopters.
Any condition that requires contact lenses for adequate correction of vision, such as corneal scars and opacities (ICD 370.0x) and irregular astigmatism (ICD 367.22). Color vision (ICD 368.5x) requirements shall be set by the individual Services. Within the Navy and Marine Corps, another disqualifying vision requirement for some jobs in the military is the color vision standard.
Color vision will be tested because adequate color vision is a prerequisite for entry into many military specialties. However, for entrance into a military academy or ROTC or OCS/OTS programs, the inability to distinguish and identify without confusion the color of an object, substance, material, or light that is uniformly colored a vivid red or vivid green is disqualifying.
Complicated cases requiring contact lenses for adequate correction of vision, such as corneal scars (ICD 371) and irregular astigmatism (ICD 367.2).
Derived from Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 6130.03, Physical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, and Induction, and DOD Instruction 6130.03 (2011 update), Criteria and Procedure Requirements for Physical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Armed Forces.