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Haffner honored for service as VA health adviser

January 9, 2012

Alden N. Haffner, O.D., was recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a quarter century of service on a top-level health care advisory panel. As a member of the VA Special Medical Advisory Group (SMAG), Dr. Haffner has, for 25 years, played an important role in shaping VA medical care and treatment, education and training of VA health care personnel, and VA research programs, speakers noted during his final advisory group meeting in May.

Made up of leading health care professionals, the panel represents the primary source of advice on clinical issues for the VA Under Secretary for Health. Panel members review and make recommendations on all operations of the VA’s health care operations and research programs.

First appointed to the SMAG in 1987, Dr. Haffner has served longer than anyone in the influential panel’s history, with a tenure spanning five presidents and six VA under secretaries for health. Dr. Haffner won rare repeated appointments largely as result of his role in spurring important initiatives to advance health care for veterans – including a major effort to expand access to eye and vision care through the VA system.

As a panel member, Dr. Haffner, an Army veteran, recommended the VA conduct a comprehensive inventory of its eye care resources that would ultimately document unacceptable waiting times and deficiencies in staffing levels at VA eye clinics. A subsequent report by Dr. Haffner led to improved optometry staffing and increased numbers of optometry residency positions at VA medical centers.

Last year, the VA recorded nearly 1.5 million visits to optometry clinics, cared for more than 1 million optometry patients, and provided education and training opportunities for more than 1,100 optometry students as well as more than 160 optometry residents and post-residency fellows. The majority of VA optometrists now hold faculty appointments at schools or colleges of optometry.

Widely considered an important figure in optometry and optometric education, Dr. Haffner was the founding president of the State University of New York (SUNY) State College of Optometry. He has served a chancellor for SUNY – the world’s largest university system with some 400,000 students – and as the university’s vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and professional programs.

His honors include the AOA Distinguished Service Award, the Eminent Service Award from the American Academy of Optometry in 1996 and induction to the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2000.

He is a former president of the New York State Optometric Association and has served on a number of AOA committees. He is credited with organizing an influential 1968 New York meeting that launched optometry’s transition from vision care to eye care and the profession’s drive for pharmaceutical prescriptive authority.

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