Military Vision Standards for Enlistment/Commissioning
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/education level of the candidate seeking enlistment or commission. There are two common waivers for vision.
Both are laser eye repair surgeries that have evolved with technology enabling people with poor vision to serve in professions where near perfect vision is a requirement like pilot or special ops. These surgeries are the following:
Both surgeries, by reshaping the cornea with a laser can help you if you are near-sighted, far-sighted, or have astigmatism.
PRK vs LASIK Eye Surgery
PRK laser eye surgery has been performed in other countries since the 1980s. 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 remains 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.
One of the first tests on the efficacy of the laser eye surgeries was done at the United States Naval Academy through the Navy Bureau of Medicine in the late 1990's. Midshipmen seeking to become Navy SEALs, EOD, or Divers were allowed to get PRK surgery.
Their vision had to be 20/40 in one eye and 20/70 in the other eye in order to qualify for such professions after commissioning. They added a six-month probationary period and were re-checked by Navy Medical. They then were allowed entrance into these professions and had no issues with this surgery.
As the Standards Read: The disqualifying medical conditions are listed below. The International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes are listed in parentheses following each standard. The causes for rejection for appointment, enlistment, and induction (without an approved waiver) are an authenticated history of Current Vision Requirements for Department of Defense (2011)
Current distant visual acuity of any degree that does not correct with spectacle lenses to at least one of the following (367):
- 20/40 in one eye and 20/70 in the other eye (369.75)
- 20/30 in one eye and 20/100 in the other eye (369.75)
- 20/20 in one eye and 20/400 in the other eye (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 (367.1-367.32). Current refractive error (hyperopia (367.0), myopia (367.1), astigmatism (367.2x)), in excess of -8.00 or +8.00 diopters spherical equivalent or astigmatism in excess of 3.00 diopters.
Any condition requiring contact lenses for adequate correction of vision, such as corneal scars and opacities (370.0x) and irregular astigmatism (367.22). Color vision (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 (371) and irregular astigmatism (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.