WIC Health Program Expands Overseas Next Year
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2000 A government-sponsored supplemental food and health education program available to stateside military families will soon become available to families overseas as well.
The Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, will begin overseas in early 2001, said Roger W. Hartman, a TRICARE health policy analyst.
“We’ve folks in the military stateside who are using WIC, but then get orders for overseas duty and lose the benefit. That's like taking a cut in pay,” he said.
“Congress directed us to make WIC as available to personnel overseas as it is to those in the United States," he said. “We’re talking fundamentally about pay and money and making supplemental foods available to people where they are not available now -- and improving the overall health, diet and nutrition of the family members in the process.”
The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 authorized WIC. Benefits have been available to military families stationed in the United States and its territories since about 1972, Hartman said. A recent amendment to U.S. Code Title 10 allows DoD to extend the program overseas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the WIC program in the United States. The program focuses on low- income, pregnant women, new mothers, infants and toddlers, he said. Participants receive vouchers at no charge that can be redeemed for specific food products prescribed by health care professionals. The program also offers nutritional education and health counseling services.
“WIC participants overseas will need to have access to military medical facilities to obtain nutritional screenings and eligibility determinations. They will also need access to a food supply, which overseas will be our military commissaries and Navy exchange markets,” Hartman said. While stateside WIC beneficiaries can use food vouchers in any store that will accept them, DoD has no plans to arrange for voucher use in foreign grocery stores, he added.
TRICARE, medical and Defense Commissary Agency officials will co-manage the overseas WIC program, Hartman said. TRICARE is only a co-manager -- the WIC overseas program is not a new TRICARE benefit, he stressed.
WIC office locations on overseas military installations will be determined by the local commands, he added.
About 7 million people living in the United States and its territories use WIC benefits every month, Hartman said. Program benefits will be available to U.S. service members, DoD civilian employees, DoD contractors, and their family members, he said.
Pentagon officials estimate up to 40,000 persons overseas may be eligible to use WIC.
Hartman said the program will be implemented in phases:
o Phase 1: WIC begins early next year at Yokosuka, Japan (Navy); Okinawa, Japan (Marine Corps and Air Force); Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Navy); RAF Lakenheath, England (Air Force); and Baumholder, Germany (Army).
o Phase 2: WIC should be in place by mid-2001 at all remaining overseas sites served by military medical treatment facilities and commissaries and Navy exchange markets. WIC will be offered at remote overseas locations contingent on suitable medical facilities and commissaries and Navy exchange markets.
“Some people in truly remote areas won’t have access to WIC,” Hartman said.
WIC serves 45 percent of all infants born in the United States, Hartman estimated. The eligible populations served include:
o Women throughout pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth or after pregnancy ends.
o Breastfeeding women, up to infant’s first birthday.
o Nonbreastfeeding women, up to six months after the infant's birth or after pregnancy ends.
o Infants up to their first birthday.
o Children up to their fifth birthday.
Hartman said income is a key determinant in WIC program eligibility. Participants’ gross income must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, he noted.
For example, he said, a family of four with an income below $31,543 would be eligible for WIC benefits. An unmarried pregnant woman who has no other children and who has been determined to be at nutritional risk could qualify for WIC if her annual income falls below $15,448, he added.
The second major qualifier for WIC eligibility is a nutritional health risk assessment conducted at a medical facility, Hartman continued.
“Something has to be going on with the mother, infant or child that a health care professional identifies as representing a nutritional need or deficit,” he said. Health conditions that might be linked to nutrition or that might involve specific dietary needs include anemia, underweight, the mother’s age, and a history of pregnancy complications or poor outcomes, Hartman said.
Diet is also considered, he added. “This usually involves poor eating habits, eating too much of the wrong foods and not enough of the right foods,” Hartman said. “It may even have to do with how foods are prepared.”
Foods that can be obtained with WIC vouchers include iron- fortified infant formula and cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetable juices, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dry beans or peas, canned tuna and carrots. “They are all high in nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, or vitamins A and C,” Hartman said.
He called WIC's nutritional education and counseling invaluable, though overshadowed by the program's food vouchers.
“I think the educational and counseling pieces of the WIC program are overlooked. They're extremely important, especially if the nutritional deficit is mainly caused by poor dietary habits -- this kind of problem often times can be corrected just through education and counseling,” he said.
For details on the WIC program, eligibility rules, income tables and more, visit the Department of Agriculture WIC Web site at www.fns.usda.gov/wic/.