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New TRICARE Program to Boost Dental Readiness of Reserves

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

ARLINGTON, Va., March 21, 2001 – TRICARE's new dental insurance program will help ensure reservists are ready to deploy when they're called, DoD medical officials said.

"We want to encourage a higher level of dental health and dental readiness than we saw during Desert Storm/Desert Shield," Navy dentist Dr. (Capt.) Lawrence McKinley said. McKinley is senior consultant for dentistry for the TRICARE Management Activity and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs here.

He described reservists' dental readiness as "unfortunately low" during the 1990-91 Gulf War period. Army Reserve Lt. Col. William Martin said roughly 35 percent to 40 percent of Army reservists activated during the Gulf War needed dental work before they could deploy. Martin is the program manager for reserve affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

"In some cases, individuals needed a week's worth of dental treatment before we could in good conscience deploy that troop overseas to a place that might not have dental care available," McKinley said.

The new TRICARE Dental Plan went into effect Feb. 1. It replaces the TRICARE Selected Reserve Dental Program and provides reservists and their family members the same dental benefits package that is available to families of active duty service members.

The new program will also help the reserve components meet a 1998 DoD requirement that says they must document an annual dental screening for all their service members.

"That has been a real challenge," Martin said. "Up to this point there hasn't been much movement." The services were given three years to meet the screening requirement, but recently were given a three-year extension to February 2004, he said.

Martin said the requirement for yearly screenings poses several problems. "Most reserve components don't have the infrastructure to perform annual dental exams," he said.

Even for those units that have embedded dental assets, spending valuable drill weekends providing routine screenings can degrade their skills. "If they're part of a field unit, their go-to-war mission is to provide emergency care, not screenings," Martin said.

He also noted that the reserves are a geographically diverse force. Only 20 percent to 25 percent of reserve units are located within a reasonable distance to a DoD medical facility.

Increasing readiness isn't the only reason DoD officials wanted to make the TRICARE Dental Plan available to reservists and their families. "The total-force concept is important. We're all one family," McKinley said. "We wanted to make this quality-of-life benefit accessible to the reserve community as well as the active duty community."

For more information on the TRICARE Dental Program, visit http://www.tricare.osd.mil/tricare/beneficiary/supprog.htm l.

Related Sites of Interst:

  • AFPS News Article: New Dental Plan Expands Services, Includes Reservists
  • AFPS News Article: Preventive Dental Care Now Reduces Major Work Later
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