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Published Aug 29, 2022 7:59 AM

Vision insurance is an afterthought for many, particularly when you’re already choosing health plans. It’s often challenging to bother oneself over eyewear when you’re comparing the finer points of your cardiovascular and oncology care. But for the most part, you won’t have much to worry about when you finally get around to scheduling a vision test.

Both retired military and veterans will likely have all of their vision needs taken care of through FEDVIP, CHAMPVA, Medicare, and, in some cases, VA vision benefits. But some will require supplemental coverage to fill in the gaps, and a few may opt out of those programs for other reasons. But the good news is that there are several exceedingly affordable options that all provide unbeatable service and coverage to retired military — because those who have served their country shouldn’t need to worry about eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Best Dental and Vision

The Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) is a health service plan available to all federal employees. Additionally, active-duty service members, retired service members, and their families also have access to FEDVIP through their TRICARE health plans. In fact, this plan may well be the best for dependents of active-duty members, too, because many are already insured through it.

Retired service members can continue their dental and vision coverage through FEDVIP, provided they remain enrolled in a TRICARE plan. Keep in mind that FEDVIP contracts its services through one of its partner vision carriers, so you’ll need to choose a provider network: Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, MetLife, UnitedHealthcare, or VSP.

FEDVIP plans feature comprehensive vision coverage, including routine eye exams and vision correction. There are also customizable options for eyeglass frames and lenses, contacts, low-vision exams, discounts on laser eye surgery, and more. However, price points, deductibles, and copays will be determined by the network provider you choose. The same goes for the company you choose as your dental carrier. And, you do have the option of having a different network for dental and vision.

But regardless of your carrier, retired military personnel receive subsidized insurance premiums through FEDVIP, so you stand to save a bundle with this plan. You can research providers in your area using FEDVIP’s online comparison tool, and contact customer support with any enrollment questions at 1-877-888-FEDS.

Key Features
  • Selection of plans serviced by 12 dental and five vision carriers
  • Options for individual, married, married with one dependent, and family coverage
  • Most plans provide free eye exam and either eyeglasses or contacts each year
Why It Made The Cut
  • Serving federal employees nationwide, FEDVIP will give retired military personnel plenty of options to choose from with a large network of companies offering dental and vision insurance.
PROS

Affordable, subsidized insurance premiums

Retirees, reservists, family members, and survivors qualify

Variety of lenses: UV coatings, shatter-proof, anti-reflective, scratch-resistant, and more

CONS

Must carry TRICARE health insurance

Dependent children are only covered until 21 years of age (23 if full-time students)

Best for Seniors

Medicare is federal health insurance for people over the age of 65, and both retired military and veterans have a lot to like about its “Part C” coverage, commonly known as Medicare Advantage.

Military retirees over the age of 65 should know about the AARP Medicare Advantage Patriot Plan. You’ll have to carry a TRICARE for Life policy to be eligible, but the plan offers access to in-network doctors for a zero-dollar monthly premium. In addition, seniors get a free eye exam, frames, and lenses each year, and there is no copay for preventative dental care. Plus, it has other perks for free routine hearing exams, discounts on hearing aids, and a free gym membership.

The Patriot Plan is managed by an AARP and UnitedHealthcare (UHC) partnership, so you’ll receive care through the UHC network. Furthermore, the plan does not furnish policyholders with prescription medication benefits, but you should be able to use TRICARE for that.

Veterans without retiree status and who qualify for VA benefits are eligible for the standard Medicare Advantage plan. It offers all of the same benefits that the Patriot Plan does, but it also has prescription drug benefits. Seniors have their choice of service carriers, including Atena, AARP/UHC, Centene, Cigna, BCBS Anthem, Kaiser Permanente, and more.

For more details about the Patriot Plan, visit the UHC website or call customer support at 1-877-363-2179. If you’re interested in standard Medicare Advantage, this online tool will help you find a plan and provider in your area.

Key Features
  • Dental and vision insurance for both retired military and veterans
  • $0 copays for most routine exams
  • Annual limits set for out-of-pocket expense for covered services
Why It Made The Cut
  • Retired military members should consider this federal plan for vision insurance because it provides care designed with their needs in mind, and some won’t pay anything for many of its services.
PROS

Patriot Plan endorsed by The American Legion

Standard Medicare Advantage offers both HMO and PPO

Access to critical social programs and other assistance

CONS

Patriot Plan does not provide prescription drug benefit

Eligible policyholders must qualify for either TRICARE or VA benefits

Best for Coverage

Retired military looking for the best vision coverage possible may find a friend in VSP insurance. Not only is it an approved carrier for those with FEDVIP through their TRICARE health plan, but by electing VSP as your provider, you’ll enjoy increased reimbursements, lower premiums, and free eye exams, as well.

Although it doesn’t have as many in-network providers as others, VSP features higher allowances for glasses and contacts than most, as well as steep discounts on LASIK. And, there is optional out-of-network coverage for those who need it.

The Standard Option is VSP’s basic plan, and it offers the protections and services one would expect to see from a major company — annual allowances for frames or contact lenses and a set menu of lens coatings and treatments. But for a few dollars more, you can enjoy the High Option plan that provides many of the basic plan’s features, but at no cost. You can compare the benefits here, but remember that retired military will get these plans further discounted through FEDVIP.

The main drawback of VSP is its insistence on using what it calls its Premier Program locations. So even though it has multiple in-network options, you’ll need to visit one of these premium clinics to get the best prices. And, if you don’t have one near you, then you may want to consider another FEDVIP carrier like BCSC Anthem or Aetna. Use this online tool to see if there are Premier Program locations near you.

Key Features
  • VSP is a participating vision carrier for FEDVIP
  • However, you don’t need FEDVIP to purchase
  • Two plans: VSP Standard and VSP High Option
  • Nearly 40,000 in-network doctors and clinics, including Walmart and Sam’s Club
Why It Made The Cut
  • Higher coverage allowances, affordable copays, and options for individuals, children, and families, make VSP one of the most popular vision insurance carriers for retired military with FEDVIP benefits.
PROS

Coverage for contact lenses instead of eyeglasses

KidsCare program for children’s vision

$0 eye exams

CONS

To take full advantage of benefits, patients need to use Premier Program locations, rather than in-network sites

Eye doctors required to use a VSP lab for lenses, which can increase wait times

Best on a Budget

While not specifically designed for retired military, few can compete with EyeMed when it comes to affordability and access to services. With a nationwide network of eye doctors and vision clinics numbering in the tens of thousands, most will find options near them. Indeed, included in EyeMed’s network are major brands such as LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears, and Target, to name a few.

Those who don’t have a provider near them can use an out-of-network doctor for an eye exam and then order frames and contacts online through the convenience of their smartphones and desktops.

EyeMed has three primary individual and family plans: Healthy, Bold, and Bright. Each plan comes with its own discounts, copays, and benefits, but policyholders who carry the Bright Plan will enjoy top-shelf coverage with a $200 annual allowance for frames, $200 for contact lenses, free lens treatments, and discounts of 15 to 20 percent off eyewear once your yearly benefit is used.

Military veterans who use CHAMPVA health insurance can also elect EyeMed as the carrier for their vision benefits, which gives them discounts on premiums. Unfortunately, there are no additional savings for retired military on FEDVIP.

Still, with low-cost options for basic and comprehensive coverage, EyeMed could be ideal for retired military who are looking for supplemental coverage to their TRICARE benefits or for those who opt out of their FEDVIP vision benefit.

Key Features
  • Nearly 100,000 providers nationwide, including major chains like Target Optical and LensCrafters
  • Additional discounts for contact lenses and eyeglasses after annual benefit is exhausted
  • Order eyewear, book appointments, and manage claims online or by phone
Why It Made The Cut
  • EyeMed has low monthly premiums, a sizable provider network, and a convenient online presence. Plus, the enrollment process is wholly digital, and there’s no waiting period.
PROS

Veterans with CHAMPVA healthcare can choose this vision carrier

Well-developed online offerings and mobile app

Optional hearing services

CONS

No discounts or benefits exclusively for military retirees

Things to consider before buying vision insurance for retired military

VA vision care

Retired military and veterans alike may be eligible to get some or all of their vision care through their local VA Medical Center. While VA healthcare benefits typically only apply to ongoing service-related injuries, that is not necessarily the case for eyeglasses, eye exams, glaucoma tests, and other types of preventative vision testing. The catch here is that you need to be eligible for VA care in the first place.

Here’s how it works. To qualify for VA vision care, at least one of these scenarios must apply to you: 

  • Have a service-connected disability
  • Vision problems caused by an illness or injury for which you receive VA care
  • Are a former prisoner of war (POW)
  • Were awarded the Purple Heart
  • Receive Title 38 benefits
  • Receive pension due to being permanently housebound

Again, not every military retiree will qualify, but for those that do, this could be the preferred course of action. Review the VA’s eligibility requirements in more detail here. Additionally, you can find a VA health facility near you with this link.

What to look for in a vision plan

When it comes to choosing a vision plan, the first thing retired military personnel should consider is which plan they should get through FEDVIP. FEDVIP has several carriers to choose from, and each of them are quite different from the other. But even if you’ve opted out of FEDVIP or the program doesn’t meet your needs, you’ll still need to decide which provider is right for you.

Here are things to look for in a vision plan:

  • Broad coverage area: Are you able to access nearby doctors and eye clinics? Online options for shopping and filing claims are great, but most tests and examinations still happen in brick-and-mortar locations. If there are none near you, then consider other options.
  • Simple claims process: Are you able to file claims online? How about through a mobile app? Email or snail mail? Is there 24/7 customer service by phone? The answers to these questions will help you understand what doing business with a provider is actually like.
  • Affordable premiums: Price is at the forefront of most policyholders, and you shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for quality coverage. Compare the monthly premiums of your vision carriers to find one with a price point that you deserve.
  • Sizable allowances: Which provider offers the most generous allowances for frames and contact lenses? At the end of the day, you want a plan with an annual allowance large enough to cover all of your costs, not just a portion.

When you compare what each company has to offer alongside your insurance needs, choosing the right eye insurance plan becomes a lot easier. Check out our guide to the best overall insurance companies. 

FAQs about vision insurance for retired military

Q: What’s typically included with vision insurance?

A: What is typically included with vision insurance are eye exams, eyeglasses, and contact lenses. These benefits are generally granted annually, and you’ll often have a copay for any services, even if it’s only zero dollars. 

Q: Can you use insurance if you buy glasses online?

A: Yes, you can use insurance to buy glasses online if the retailer accepts your insurance type. On the other hand, for those who get reimbursed for purchases, double-check to make sure your provider doesn’t have any restrictions with online vendors. Also, just like purchasing at a brick-and-mortar retailer, your insurance likely has a dollar amount that you are allowed to spend each year, so be mindful of this allowance when buying glasses or contact lenses online.

Q: Is paying for vision insurance worth it?

A: Yes, it’s generally worth it to pay for vision insurance, especially for retired military who may experience vision issues as they age. Typically, healthcare plans only cover eye injuries and other medical problems, so to avoid paying out of pocket for eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses, vision insurance can definitely be worth it. However, if all you require are annual eye check-ups, then insurance may not be cost-effective.