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DoD Fills Cavity in Overseas Family Dental Care

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, July 23, 1996 – By early fall, the Air Force will have added 23 dentists and 46 dental technicians to bases in the Pacific. They'll join a continuing DoDwide effort to aggressively pursue expanded family dental care at all overseas locations.

In 1995, DoD began to ensure quality dental care was available for family members overseas, according to Army Lt. Col. Rich Jones. He is deputy director of TRICARE policy and operations, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

"Dental care for family members is the No. 1 health care issue in DoD today," said Dr. (Col.) Joe Kelley, Pacific Air Forces command surgeon. "This is especially true in Europe, where the force drawdown significantly decreased the level of care available at military facilities."

Jones said family dental care overseas is delivered three ways. The preferred and most economical method is direct care in DoD facilities, using military dentists, he said. In addition, the Army may hire contractors to provide dental services in the installation clinics in Europe. The third way is to send family members to host nation providers.

In the Pacific, the services increased resource sharing and patient referrals to further improve accessibility, Jones said.

Overseas family dental care isn't only an accessibility issue, however. "We want to give them highquality dental care while they're overseas, but we encourage them to take care of major dental problems before they go," said Air Force Col. Jerry Luby, DoD TRICARE policy and operations director.

"The services urge family members to enroll in the TRICARE Active Duty Family Member Dental Program and pay the monthly premium while they are overseas," Jones said. "This allows them to continue receiving care in the United States when they're home on leave and ensures uninterrupted service when they make permanent change of station moves back to the states."

Whether a premium will be charged for the Overseas Family Member Dental Program is still undecided, Luby said. "Our goal is to keep family dental costs as close as possible to what they'd experience back here," he said. "We don't want them to suffer either in their ability to get care whether from us or a foreign provider or what they have to pay out of pocket.

"Our overriding concern is to take care of our family members overseas not just leave them on their own and hope they have a good experience."

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