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VA Ends Laser Eye Surgery by Optometrists

As vision professionals squabble - Veterans pay the price 

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Dateline: January, 2005

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has ended a five-month-old policy that permitted optometrists to perform laser eye surgery at its health care facilities under the supervision of ophthalmologists.

"The decision I made to rescind optometrists' privileges is a reluctant one," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "Since experts could not come up with an implementation plan agreeable to both specialties, I chose this path to protect the interest of veterans."

Traditionally, ophthalmologists perform eye surgery, while optometrists conduct visual examinations.

In VA, health professionals can only perform services identified by professional licenses issued by each state. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that licenses properly trained optometrists in their state to perform laser eye surgery.

In August, VA began permitting optometrists with licenses authorizing laser eye surgery to perform those procedures under the supervision of an ophthalmologist. However, a VA panel with representatives from both professions has been unable to reach an agreement on how this supervision would actually take place.

VA currently operates 157 hospitals, 134 nursing homes, 42 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, and 862 outpatient clinics. The new policy will take effect immediately at all facilities providing laser eye surgery.

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