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DOD civilians in Japan should plan for off-base medical care, says Defense Health Agency chief

Military hospitals at Naval Base Yokosuka, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Base, the headquarters of U.S. forces in Japan, said this year that some civilians needed to be treated by Japanese providers. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

Civilian employees of the Department of Defense in Japan should “have a plan in place” for medical care from a local provider in case military hospitals cannot see them, the chief of military medical care in the department said Monday. Peaceful.

The Defense Health Agency is legally obligated to prioritize active duty members and their families, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Heck, director of the DHA’s Indo-Pacific region, told Stars and Stripes during a briefing. a video call. DOD civilians and anyone not covered by the Army’s Tricare Prime medical plan are seen in military hospitals as space permits.

Military hospitals at Naval Base Yokosuka, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Base, the headquarters of U.S. forces in Japan, said this year that some civilians needed to be treated by Japanese providers.

In response, the Japan Medical Forum, a DOD civilian group, launched a petition on October 10 on change.org urging Congress to preserve civilians’ access to routine health care at military hospitals and to protect them. refusals from off-base service providers. The petition had received 1,026 signatures as of Monday.

Heck said the DHA, which runs military medical facilities in the armed forces, is trying to make room for civilian patients, but they should be prepared when that effort fails.

“It really behooves the unregistered population to have a plan in place to get any care they might need outside of the military treatment facility,” he said.

Seeking health care in a foreign country can be difficult, Heck said, but the responsibility for meeting those challenges rests with those civilians.

“We sympathize and understand the difficulty they may have in getting the health care they need for themselves or their families,” he said. “And we encourage them to work with their recruiting agency and their human resources department to try to find care on the economy during this time when they can’t get into the military treatment facility.”

Military hospitals at Naval Base Yokosuka, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Base, the headquarters of U.S. forces in Japan, said this year that some civilians needed to be treated by Japanese providers.

Military hospitals at Naval Base Yokosuka, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Base, the headquarters of U.S. forces in Japan, said this year that some civilians needed to be treated by Japanese providers. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Alexandra Cummings, civilian DOD wife in Yokosuka and forum member, said the DHA was negligent in creating a sudden, blanket ban on treating civilians without an agreement in place with Japan to provide them with medical care.

Many DOD civilians arrived in Japan after a cursory medical examination and have medical conditions that would disqualify active-duty service members from serving overseas, Cummings told Stars and Stripes via Facebook Messenger on Monday.

“I think we were largely uninformed,” she said. “Circumstances have changed so much on the pitch that we have healthy people [crises] and they can’t even get into a Japanese medical provider. Nobody talked about it. »

Heck said that under U.S. Code Title 10 Chapter 55, Section 1071 and a 2018 DHA procedural direction, the agency is obligated to prioritize care for active duty members. .

DHA medical facilities “are expected to provide primary care services available with minimal or no space,” according to the procedural instructions. Consistently offering appointments in the space available to civilian patients implies that there is enough space for active duty patients.

Appointment availability can change quickly depending on the number of providers or patients, he said. Personnel changes are behind the recent lack of civilian appointments in Yokota, where civilian pediatric patients have been sent off-base, and Yokosuka, where all civilians without Tricare Prime have been diverted to providers premises for certain services, such as paediatrics, mental health or family. Medication.

However, DHA is working with U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and other military providers to reopen available appointments for civilians, Heck said. He was unable to estimate when this might happen.

The DHA has “no concerns” about appointments being available at military hospitals other than Yokosuka, DHA spokeswoman Whitney Trimble told Stars and Stripes via email Monday.

But the number of appointments available depends on the number of appointments remaining after active duty members and their dependents have been seen, Trimble said.

“Because of this fluidity, there is no way of anticipating the number of appointments available in the space that we will have in [a military treatment facility] at some point,” she said.


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