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Pentagon Has New Strategy for Monitoring Deployment Health Care

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 11, 2003 – The Defense Department has changed the way it will track and assess the health care given military personnel before, during and after deployments, a senior Pentagon health official said recently.

DoD's new strategy emphasizes health care surveillance of deployed personnel, said Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director, Deployment Health Support Directorate, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness.

Officials, he said, want no repeat of 1991 Gulf War health care problems, referring to widespread instances reported of deployed personnel returning home with incomplete and poorly maintained medical records and improperly monitored illnesses.

Sperm Bank Deposits Are Your Personal Business

American Forces Press Service

Some news media are running stories about men in uniform opening accounts in sperm banks in case they're deployed and come home infertile or worse.

The Defense Department takes no position on cryobank facilities and has no programs or policies encouraging or discouraging their use, said Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of DoD's Deployment Health Support Directorate. Further, the department doesn't intrude on individuals' private family planning decisions.

In other words, he said, freeze your sperm for a rainy day if you want. If you do, though, chalk it up as a personal choice and not to it being necessary because of evidence from the Gulf War. There isn't any "Gulf War evidence," he added.

Citing just a few statements from DoD's comprehensive GulfLINK Web site:

  • Of the more than 200 Gulf War studies and research projects done over the past 12 years by the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, none has surfaced medical indications that infertility or birth defects should be a concern to deploying service members.

  • A 1995-98 Department of Veterans Affairs study of 15,000 male Gulf War veterans and 15,000 male nondeployed vets revealed that more Gulf War vets became fathers (2,236) than those who hadn't deployed (1,689).

  • Research today shows the rate of birth defects in children of Gulf War veterans is comparable to that of nondeployed vets.

  • Reproductive health study summaries can also be found on the GulfLINK Web site.

Kilpatrick said DoD is concerned with taking care of the health of its military personnel and their families. "To do that optimally, we need to provide preventive care," he said. "And if a service member becomes ill or is injured, we need to provide treatment for them."

After a deployment, he added, personnel need to know that the Department of Defense will provide them with care for any medical problem they may develop.

This Force Health Protection strategy is designed to help the department track service members' diseases and injuries and to provide them comprehensive follow-up treatment for deployment-related health conditions, he said.

Kilpatrick directs the DoD effort to protect the health of deployed service members He noted there was no unique screening being done prior to deployment during the Gulf War. "If you were on active duty, you were generally assumed to be deployable," he said.

Now, he said, the Defense Department plans to see that force health is closely monitored through a series of medical assessments before and after deployment and that health concerns are documented and closely monitored.

Kilpatrick said the pre- and post-deployment health assessment is a brief series of questions that look to see if troops are physically and psychologically prepared to deploy. The forms can be found on DoD's deployment Web site at www.deploymentlink.osd.mil.

"(The assessment is) an opportunity for them to bring up any medical conditions that occurred to them in the last several months or in the period since their last physical examination. It's a quick check to make sure they are ready to go," he said.

The health assessments are done on paper and checked by a physician "to see if there are any changes in service members' health or condition that may require attention before or after they deploy," Kilpatrick said. Later, the forms are sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where they are scanned electronically and retained for analysis.

The Defense Department has established three deployment health centers, one each for health surveillance, health care and health research. They focus on the prevention, treatment and understanding of deployment- related health concerns. Two centers are at Walter Reed; the third is at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego.

The department will improve deployment-related medical record keeping through its Composite Health Care System II and the Theater Medical Information Program, which is still being tested.

Kilpatrick said the two systems will collect immunization data electronically through a centralized data bank, along with computerized medical files currently being gathered on deployed military personnel from all the services in order to document deployment-related health problems.

He noted that Special Forces soldiers deployed to remote areas can now use handheld computers to gather and store medical data on soldiers and then later transmit the data to rear operations headquarters.

Still, pre- and post-deployment health assessments and electronic record keeping are only part of the force protection strategy. Kilpatrick said broader initiatives to protect deployed personnel are expected, and more research is being done.

The plan includes improving health risk communication and medical intelligence; providing environmental risk assessments to commanders on the battlefield; giving medical threat briefings; and distributing pocket-sized health guides to deployed personnel. Kilpatrick's office also has created deployment-focused Web sites, such as DeploymentLINK.

In addition, the Defense Medical Surveillance System has created a database on diseases military personnel may encounter in deployed areas. Another plan is to deploy preventive medicine and environmental surveillance teams to forward-deployed areas to evaluate health threats on the battlefield.

Another measure calls for improved biological and chemical warfare detection and alarm systems. And the Pentagon is researching current vaccines and anti-malarial drugs and exploring next-generation vaccines and drugs, he said.

Kilpatrick said the new program shows how seriously DoD regards force health protection.

"We've learned a great deal from deployments over the past 12 years since the Gulf War and we intend to use those lessons to benefit those who serve today, Kilpatrick concluded. "That's what this program is all about."

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