DOD civilians in Japan should plan for off-base medical care, Defense Health Agency chief says

Military hospitals at Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Force Base, the headquarters of US forces in Japan, said this year some civilians are having to seek treatment from Japanese providers. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

Civilian Defense Ministry employees in Japan should have “a plan” for medical care from a local provider in case military hospitals can’t see them, the head of military medical care in the Pacific said Monday.

The Defense Health Agency is required by law to prioritize active-duty members and their families, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Heck, director of DHA’s Indo-Pacific region, Stars and Stripes said during a video call. DOD civilians and anyone not covered under the military’s Tricare-Prime medical plan will be screened at military hospitals, where space is available.

Military hospitals at Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Force Base, the headquarters of US forces in Japan, said this year some civilians are having to seek treatment from Japanese providers.

In response, the Japan Medical Forum, a group of DOD civilians, started a petition on change.org on Oct. 10, urging Congress to restrict civilians’ access to routine health care in military hospitals and to protect them from denial to protect external providers. The petition had received 1,026 signatures as of Monday.

Heck said the DHA, which manages military medical facilities in the armed forces, is trying to make room for civilian patients, but they should be prepared if those efforts fall short.

“It’s really up to the unregistered population to have a plan in place to get the care they may need outside of the military treatment facility,” he said.

Finding medical care in a foreign country may be difficult, Heck said, but the responsibility for meeting those challenges rests with these civilians.

“We regret and understand the difficulties they may have in getting the health care they need for themselves or their families,” he said. “And we encourage them to work with their recruitment agency and human resources department to try to take care of the economy during this time when they can’t get into the military treatment facility.”

Military hospitals at Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Force Base, the headquarters of US forces in Japan, said this year some civilians are having to seek treatment from Japanese providers.

Military hospitals at Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport of the 7th Fleet, and Yokota Air Force Base, the headquarters of US forces in Japan, said this year some civilians are having to seek treatment from Japanese providers. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Alexandra Cummings, a civilian wife of the Defense Ministry in Yokosuka and a forum member, said the DHA was negligent in imposing a sudden, blanket ban on treating civilians without an agreement with Japan to provide them with medical care.

Many DOD civilians arrived in Japan after a cursory medical evaluation and have medical issues that would preclude active duty military personnel from serving abroad, Cummings told Stars and Stripes by Facebook Messenger Monday.

“I think we were largely uninformed,” she said. “Circumstances have changed so drastically on the ground that we have people who are healthy [crises] and they can’t even get into a Japanese medical provider. Nobody talked about that.”

Heck said that under Chapter 55 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 1071, and a 2018 DHA policy statement, the agency is required to prioritize the care of active duty members.

DHA medical facilities “are expected to provide primary care services with minimal or no available space, as per the procedural order.” Routinely offering discretionary appointments to civilian patients implies that there is ample space for active duty patients.

Appointment availability can change quickly depending on the number of providers or patients, he said. Personnel turnover is at the root of the recent lack of civilian appointments in Yokota, where civilian pediatric patients have been turned away from the base, and in Yokosuka, where all civilians without Tricare Prime have been diverted to local providers for specific services, such as pediatrics, mental health or family medicine .

However, the DHA is working with US Naval Hospital Yokosuka and other military providers to reopen available places to civilians, Heck said. When that will be, he could not estimate.

The DHA has “no concerns” about open appointments at military hospitals other than Yokosuka, DHA spokeswoman Whitney Trimble told Stars and Stripes via email Monday.

However, the number of appointments available depends on how many appointments are left after seeing active duty members and their loved ones, Trimble said.

“Because of this fluidity, there is no way of predicting how many available dates we will have [a military treatment facility] at some point,” she said.


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