Pentagon Seeks Host-Nation Dental Care at Remote Sites
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, July 23, 1996 Air Force Dr. (Col.) Dennis Stuckey led a triservice team to Australia and Thailand in July, where they combed cities for highquality civilian dentists.
The dentists the team identifies must practice according to American standards and agree to treat U.S. service members and their families stationed there, with DoD picking up the tab.
Through the "Overseas Dental PlanRemote Locations," DoD aims to improve dental services to beneficiaries based at embassies and other geographically separated or remote locations, said Stuckey, director of dental services for Pacific Air Forces. This is the second of three scheduled trips in the Pacific to locate hostnation providers and establish payment mechanisms so DoD members have access without heavy outlays of cash, he said.
"So far, we found practitioners in each country we've visited who meet our standards and are willing to take care of our people," he said. "A fair number were trained in the United States and returned to their home countries to practice."
DoD initiated the program in the U.S. Central Command area, said Army Lt. Col. Rich Jones, deputy director of TRICARE policy and operations, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. CENTCOM has sent teams to Africa, he said, to locate qualified health care providers. The department since extended the initiative to all overseas locations and hopes to fully implement it in fiscal 1997, Jones said.
"We funded the unified commands to go out and find physicians and dentists, and they're in the process of doing that now," he said. "Simultaneously, we are figuring out ways to pay the bills and ensure an even level of quality. We hope to have a systematic plan very soon."
The department always has provided dental care to people assigned to remote locations, either at military facilities or through hostnation providers, added Air Force Col. Jerry Luby, TRICARE policy and operations director. But, he said, the force drawdown has made the issue of availability critical.
"A lot of our people in embassies and outlying locations no longer have nearby military facilities where they can obtain health care," Luby said. "As a result, we've had to go out and find alternative sources on a more systematic basis."
Noting a longstanding concern of DoD family members for accessibility to quality, economical dental care, Stuckey praised the plan. "This is the single best initiative we've had in years," he said.