The Department of Defense lacks an adequate quality assurance program to meet the requirements of force health protection and surveillance policies, according to U.S. General Accounting Office testimony Thursday before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"Continued noncompliance with these policies may result in servicemembers deploying with health problems or delays in obtaining care when they return," says Neal Curtin, director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the GAO, in his written testimony.
A law enacted in 1997 requires the DOD to establish a system to assess the medical condition of servicemembers before and after deployment. The law also says deployed military personnel must receive certain immunizations and that health-related documentation must be maintained in a central database.
The Army and the Air Force did not comply with these policies for many service members at the installations visited by the GAO between June 2002 and July 2003, Curtin says. The GAO review of 1,071 medical records found 38% to 98% of servicemembers were missing one or both of their health assessments and up to 36% were missing two or more of the required immunizations.
The centralized database was missing 0% to 63% of the documentation for pre-deployment assessments, 11% to 75% for post-deployment assessments, and 8% to 93% for immunizations, the GAO says.
In June 2003, the Deployment Health Support Directorate of the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs "began reviewing the services' quality assurance implementation plans and establishing DOD-wide compliance metrics--including parameters for conducting periodic visits--to monitor service implementation."
The Defense Department will formally publish its force health protection and surveillance quality assurance program at the end of the year, with execution to follow immediately, says a DOD spokesperson. In May, the department revised its post-deployment health assessment form to gather more information from deployed servicemembers that will help medical personnel evaluate mental and physical health, the spokesperson says.
Curtin of the GAO says, "While we view these actions as responsive to our recommendation, the effectiveness of these actions to ensure compliance will depend on follow-through by DOD and the services."