New eyewear fitted with a camera that can help low-vision people see — known as eSight devices — will be much more readily available at Veterans Affairs hospitals thanks to a partnership with veteran-owned medical supplies company Marathon Medical.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the former acting surgeon general of the Army and an advocate for people with low vision, said eSight is “truly looking to improve the lives of the men and women and the boys and girls with vision loss who can benefit from this tool.”
Pollock has been a vocal supporter of eSight for years, and has occasionally consulted for the company on strategy and connecting it with civilian leaders, she said.
But upon first learning about eSight in 2014 or 2015, after an investor in the Canada-based company told her to check out a demonstration of the device, Pollock was skeptical.
At the eSight demonstration she attended in a Boston conference room, it was initially slow going. Pollock saw several older low-vision people attempt to use eSight but have trouble with the technology.
Then a man with poor vision walked in on someone’s arm and asked to “play with” the device. A few minutes later, he asked to go to the window. When Pollock offered him her elbow, he said he would like to try walking there himself.
“We’re in one of those big conference rooms, with the big tables, the big chairs, boxes and cords and crap on the floor,” Pollock recalled. “I’m like, oh, boy, here we go.”
But the man successfully navigated to the window.
“He stands there for a few minutes looking out,” Pollock said. “He turns around and says, ‘May I describe the Boston skyline to you? I haven’t seen it in years.’”
That was when Pollock decided she wanted to advocate for eSight. Even if the device wouldn’t work for all low-vision people, it could be life-changing for some people, she said.
The high-speed cameras in the eSight headsets work by magnifying what they capture, clarifying the world for some low-vision people. The technology is a Class I medical device registered with the FDA, a similar classification to other low-risk devices, like stethoscopes.
eSight has long been available to veterans through their VA insurance, said Aaron Tutwiler, director of sales. But it used to take months or even years for the eyewear to end up on a veteran’s face as the company navigated registering with VA hospitals and securing VA contracts.
By partnering with Marathon Medical — which is a registered vendor with all 1,298 VA hospitals and gets higher priority in VA procurement because it is owned by a service-disabled veteran — eSight can get its devices to veterans within weeks of an appointment, said Marathon Medical COO Jon Landis.
The VA will cover the whole cost of the device, whose suggested retail price is $6,950, according to Tutwiler.
Veterans who served in combat are more likely to have vision loss than their civilian counterparts, according to Pollock. The eye is involved in combat injury 10 to 13% of the time, with cases as minor as a cut eyelid and as severe as removal of an eye, she said. Traumatic brain injury can also hamper veterans’ vision.
“The civilian population is facing the same risks of vision loss as the military is, but we have the additional one of the fact that we deployed to combat,” Pollock said. “That’s why I think it’s so important that we continue to find new tools, new ways to support the men and women that know that they’re putting themselves at risk, and then to be able to help them should they ever need it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the eSight device’s FDA registration status. The article has been updated.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.