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Terrorism Refocused Attention on Force Health Protection

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2002 – The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 last year and events since have made DoD leaders pay closer attention to force health protection measures.

Service medical experts are placing greater emphasis on recognizing symptoms of, and refreshing treatment plans for, exposure to chemical and biological agents, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in his annual report to the president and the Congress.

DoD released the report Aug. 15. It contains a section on health issues.

The report says DoD and the Department of Health and Human Services have put together a high-level working group to focus on improving defenses against chemical and biological terrorism.

Caring for reservists and National Guardsmen called to active duty has placed an added burden on the Military Health System. The report explains the more than 60,000 reserve-component service members called to active duty since Sept. 11 are eligible for the same medical and dental benefits as their active duty counterparts.

In addition, family members of Guard and Reserve members activated for more than 30 days are eligible for full benefits under TRICARE.

The report mentions a new contracting structure TRICARE is developing. The new contracts, scheduled to take effect in spring 2003, "have greater financial predictability, are less cumbersome, create more competition and reduce administrative costs."

The report states high-quality, convenient, affordable healthcare is part of the compact between the American public and the military.

There is broad support for several new initiatives enacted during 2002, according to the report. These initiatives include TRICARE for Life, which makes TRICARE a second- payer to Medicare for military retirees and their family members who are over age 65, and elimination of co-payments for TRICARE services for family members of active duty members.

Paying for these improvements might not be easy. "An increased percentage of the Department of Defense budget will be expended on these health care initiatives," the report states. The department will have to look to new approaches of providing care to stabilize these costs.

"Today's security environment, both at home and abroad, demands that the United States maintain the best trained and most highly prepared military force in the world," the reports says. Quality health care is one area that contributes to the nation's success in managing an all- volunteer military, the report maintains.

The entire annual report is available in HTML and .pdf versions at www.defenselink.mil/execsec/adr2002/toc2002.htm.

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