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Vision Care from a Distance
By Hilary Gibson

(Page 2 of 2)

Another vision program available to low-income, working people throughout the United States, including in rural areas, is VISION USA. The program began nationwide in 1991, and was developed by doctors of optometry and who are members of the American Optometric Association. To date, over 314,000 low-income, working Americans have benefited from the free eye exams provided by VISION USA. There are at least 40 million people in the United States who can’t afford the cost of routine eye care or the health insurance that covers it. Although they may be of low-income status, they’re considered to earn too much, disqualifying them from government aid and private health-care assistance.

VISION USA is available year round, helping these people to receive basic eye health and vision care services free of charge to these people and their families who have no other means of obtaining care. The program is available to children and adults of all ages who qualify. In order to receive free eye care services, the general eligibility requirements are as follows: person must have a job or live in a household where there is only one working member; have no vision insurance; have income below an established level based on household size; and not have had an eye exam within 2 years.

When an individual or family is found to be eligible for the program, they will be matched with a volunteer optometrist who will provide a comprehensive eye exam at no charge. Eye wear may also be provided at no cost or for a small fee/donation in some states.

Dr. Whitener agrees that it is very important for eye care to be accessible for those in rural areas, not only because of the obvious diseases that can cause blindness, but because many of these people work on farms and encounter serious eye injuries due to the nature of their work. Many of them do not wear safety glasses because they can’t afford to purchase them, let alone afford the eye exam that is needed for such protective eye wear. Still, Dr. Whitener is hopeful that programs like VISION USA and will continue to expand their work further and further into the rural areas of America where preventative eye care is greatly needed. When asked, Dr. Whitener had this to say regarding the single most important thing that rural caregivers could do for their loved ones, “When caring for a loved one, there’s an entire laundry list of things that caregivers must make sure they do for them every day, however, something like eye care tends to be somewhere last on this list too often. Caregivers naturally prioritize the most immediate needs of their loved one, and although eye care may not be at the top of the list, caregivers must make sure that it does make the list somewhere. Caregivers should also remember that if their loved one is 65 or older, an annual, preventative eye exam is extremely important for them to have, because it may lead to the discovery of other problems which might be easily treated and controlled through early detection.”

If you would like to know if you are eligible for VISION USA, you can apply online at or contact VISION USA at 243 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141, and by phone at 800-766-4466, 7 a.m.-9 p.m., CST, Monday through Friday.

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