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Services Will Collect Baseline Medical Info on Recruits

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2000 – Defense medical officials are working on a plan to collect baseline health data from all recruits during their basic training.

The Recruit Assessment Program would collect "comprehensive, extensive medical history and health data" and will compile the information into a computer database, said Navy Capt. Kenneth C. Hyams, director of epidemiology at the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Md.

"The data will be accessible through a computer network and available to doctors when they are caring for their patients throughout the patients' military career," Hyams said. "It will also be available to Department of Veterans Affairs doctors when individuals leave military service and enter the VA system."

He said the services currently collect medical information from recruits, but the RAP questionnaire is both more extensive and computerized. There are no current plans to pose the same questions to those already serving, he noted.

"In the past, most of the information collected has been on paper copies. Often times those paper questionnaires get lost and aren't available to physicians when they are caring for patients later in their military career," Hyams said. "It's very important that we have a life-long medical record that doctors can use to help in the care of patients, both while they're in the military and after they enter the VA system."

All the information wouldn't be important during a recruit's early years in service, but most certainly would be critical as individuals age. For instance, women with a family history of breast cancer could be targeted for earlier preventive screenings, he said.

The initiative came in part from lessons learned after the Gulf War. It was nearly impossible to determine what ailments were service-related because no available database provide a clear picture of veterans' health before their service in the Gulf.

Once individuals are sent off to war or to a dangerous deployment such as Bosnia, it's too late to collect the baseline data needed to really understand later health problems they may have after they return, Hyams explained.

"One of the major problems in understanding the Gulf War Syndrome controversy has been the fact that we have not been able to evaluate the changes in military members' health over time," he said.

Currently, a pilot Recruit Assessment Program is being tested at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill.; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Officials are working out some issues regarding questionnaire design and automation and aren't sure when the program would be implemented DoD-wide.

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