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DoD Looks at Reserve Health Care With Eye on Readiness

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 1997 – More frequent physical and dental exams and annual health certification are measures DoD could soon adopt to help keep members of the reserve components fit and ready for duty. The measures are among the objectives a reserve health care summit will debate during three sessions over the next several months.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said Nov. 18 the summit will address the full spectrum of health care issues, entitlements and legislative policies affecting the readiness of reserve components in the post-Cold War world. He said the summit will help improve readiness and ensure reservists who become ill or injured as a result of service receive appropriate health care and medical benefits.

"This summit is about taking care of the people who make up nearly one-half of our total military force," Cohen said. "I am committed to the seamless integration of the active and reserve components. To achieve a seamless force, we must update our medical policies to ensure that they support mission requirements as we enter the 21st century. This summit is another step toward further integration."

The summit has three overarching goals:

  • Reach consensus on reserve component health care-related requirements;
  • Identify who will be responsible and accountable within DoD for meeting those requirements; and
  • Identify how those requirements are budgeted within DoD.

"We need to find practical solutions to the most pressing health care problems confronting today's reservists," said Deborah Lee, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. "This summit will help us do that by formulating a plan to meet both the immediate and long-term health care needs of reserve component members."

In Phase I, slated for late November in Washington, summit participants will evaluate prevailing laws and policy relating to reserve component health care. Topics for discussion will include the requirement for physical exams every five years, annual certification of physical condition, annual dental exams, immunizations, DNA collection, health surveillance and health care support issues such as line-of-duty requirements for follow-up and continuing treatment. Participants will identify legislative and policy changes necessary to ensure members of the reserve components receive health care benefits that are consistent with the increased reliance on today's reserve force.

"We have a vested interest in the health readiness of our reserve component personnel," said Dr. Ed Martin, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "While reserve members are responsible for maintaining their health, we must help meet their health care needs by partnering the military health system, private insurers and VA [Department of Veterans Affairs]. Reservists are vital to our armed forces, and we need to help take care of all our people."

Beginning late December, the second phase of the summit will address incapacitation and disability issues. In mid-January 1998, the third phase will address reserve component access to VA benefits and programs.

Recognizing the increased reliance on the reserve components in recent years, Cohen said, "We must ensure their medical readiness to achieve a truly integrated total force. I am pleased that this summit is a partnership effort - with the DoD, the private sector and VA all working together."

(from a DoD release)

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