My dad served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and both grandfathers fought in World War II, so I’ve always been aware of the sacrifices military families make. So many service members have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country, while millions of others also risked their lives and gave their time, missing family birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and everyday moments so that I could pursue my dreams. Yet these service members are not invincible, and when they transition out of military service many of the 18.8 million veterans struggle to access the health care that helps them maintain their independence.
This May, five VSP network doctors volunteered their time and expertise to provide no-cost eye exams and glasses for 200 veterans in need with the Military Veterans Resource Center (MVRC), a nonprofit organization based in Columbus, Ohio.
Dr. Tamara Kuhlmann of Powell, Ohio, has a personal connection and long history of providing eye care for veterans—her father fought at the Battle of the Bulge with the Army in World War II, three brothers served in the Army and Navy, and she previously worked at the Veterans Health Administration in Chillicothe and Columbus.
“We have an obligation as United States citizens to take care of our warriors who keep the peace,” she said. “Many veterans go into danger or handle hazardous materials on our country’s behalf, and they’re exposed to a lot more that can damage their eyes than the rest of us. Providing health care is the least we can do for our veterans who have risked their health and lives to keep us safe.”
Army veteran Robert Jeter, 55, served in Germany during the Cold War and now works as a barber and chef. During his eye exam he learned that the headaches he’s been experiencing for more than a year are likely the result of wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. He’s excited about seeing more clearly with the lenses prescribed just for him.
“To others a pair of glasses may seem like a simple fix, but these glasses will make a world of difference in my life,” Jeter said. “Being able to see better makes me hopeful that I can continue to enjoy my work and be self-sufficient even as my eyes age.”
For Army veteran Roderick Leonard Sr., 52, new glasses means the ability to keep working and continue to help people with developmental disabilities remain in their own homes.
“I’m tremendously humble and grateful for my exam and new glasses,” he said. “They’ll give me a little more freedom and as a small business owner, I’ll be more efficient with paperwork and have time for other needs.”
“We received calls from other cities asking about the mobile clinic, and we’re now realizing the huge unmet need for eye care for veterans in this area,” said Stefanie Hauck, an Air Force veteran and the MVRC’s communications officer. “I received new glasses that will enable me to drive safely, and the impact on the other veterans has been tremendously positive.”
VSP doctors were pleased to help so many veterans see their world more clearly, and we are excited to continue partnering with optometrists in Ohio and across the world to help close the gap in access to eye care and eyewear. Learn more about our commitment at www.globaleyesofhope.com.
This is a guest post by VSP Global employee Kate McIntyre, reviewed by Dr. Tamara Kuhlmann of Eye Care Professionals of Powell.
Did You Know?
It’s important that every person sees an eye doctor annually for an exam, but for veterans it may be even more critical. While veterans generally report better health overall than their civilian counterparts, they are more likely to have heart disease and diabetes, two chronic conditions eye doctors often detect signs of before primary care providers.
Additionally, Dr. Kuhlmann says, optometrists can help care for the visual and eye health needs of veterans who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries, who’ve been exposed to infections like tuberculosis or harmful materials like Agent Orange, and those who experience side effects of taking medication for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.