First meeting for orientation and training (ca.1980) at the Northport, NY VA Educational Center, of the initial class of VA optometrists recruited as a result of Public Law 94-581 enacted in 1976. That law removed VA optometrists from out-of-date (Civil Service) pay grades (Title 5 of US Code) and directed the VA to offer its optometrists the higher pay grades and promotion opportunities then offered only to VA physicians and dentists under Title 38 USC, and to establish teaching affiliations with schools of optometry.
Although enacted in 1976, the VA had been unable to offer these higher salaries due to stiff opposition from the Civil Service Commission that insisted VA continue to offer only non-competitive Title 5 salaries. A Congressional hearing in early 1978 directed the VA transfer of optometry staff from Title 5 to Title 38 personnel rules, making possible the recruitment of long-needed optometry staff.
The first Director of the new Optometry Service, Ken Myers, is standing in the front row, far left and next to him is Dr. Robert Newcomb the only Chief of a VA teaching Optometry Clinic (Birmingham VA) at that time. A similar action had been taken (ca.1948) when the Department of Defense first appointed optometrists as commissioned officers.
Today, across the nation, the VA is the largest employer of optometrists and largest provider of residency-level and undergraduate-level clinical training in the world, having over 970 optometrists as members of their medical staffs and training about 1,400 student trainees and 220 postgraduate residents per year.