Enlisted chiefs: More health, child care wanted

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
It’s all about access.
Better access to health care and more child care capacity are top priorities for troops and families, the services’ senior enlisted advisers told lawmakers Feb. 7.
“Soldiers and families routinely identify access to quality medical care as a priority to them and a primary reason they ... stay in the Army,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston.
“We invested heavily this last year in caring for our wounded warriors,” Preston told the House Appropriations subcommittee on military quality of life and veterans affairs.
“But the medical challenges we faced a year ago were not limited to Walter Reed,” he said. “We cannot have consistent world-class healing environments without proper medical facilities and improved quality and access to care.”
Military medical facilities are well-maintained and operated, he said, “but they are old and are not configured or constructed to provide the full range of treatment available in modern medical facilities.”
Of the 25 major Army hospitals or medical centers, eight are more than 50 years old, and many more are between 25 and 50 years old.
All the senior enlisted advisers said access to health care was either the first or second issue of concern, based on their talks with troops and families.
“When they need appointments, it takes a long time to get an appointment on a military base, and they have to go outside because we have a shortage of doctors,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe Campa Jr. said he does not hear many complaints about the quality of care in military medical facilities, but he does hear “complaints about access to care when they cannot get into the military treatment facility.”
Because families do not understand the process, they get frustrated, and they often end up going to the emergency room for treatment, which creates a new set of problems, he said.
“Due to the high demand on our maritime forces and with the continued role of these nontraditional ground support missions, pillars of support such as health care, child care and housing are more critical than ever,” Campa said.
The advisers said their visits to hospitals and discussions with troops and families indicate the wounded are getting good care.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley said child care was his No. 1 issue, because there simply aren’t enough spaces available.
“Spouses are having to work ... so they have to go downtown” for child care, paying much higher costs, he said. The other advisers echoed that concern.
“Child care is a big issue,” said Campa’s wife, Diana, who attended the hearing and was asked to provide input. She said people who are deployed have the first priority for child care, but many other families need care, and there isn’t enough to meet the demand, especially for infant care.
“People do go outside the base, but they don’t feel the quality of care is as good,” said Diana Campa, who is also the Navy’s at-large ombudsman, in an interview after the hearing.
The advisers also are keeping an eye out for their single service members, especially in the area of housing. While there are few issues with family housing because of improvements brought about through privatization, they said there is a shortage of adequate housing for singles.
The Army has 35,400 barracks that do not meet standards, Preston said. With its budget request for 2009 through 2013, he said, the Army expects to reach its target goal of 147,700 soldiers living in modernized barracks.
Kent also said housing is his number one issue, mainly barracks for single Marines. He noted that one Marine said his barracks was so bad, he’d rather be in Iraq. There are about 2,300 inadequate barracks in the Marine Corps.
The Navy is improving living quarters for sailors, too, but about 9,000 still must live aboard ship when their vessels are in port, Campa said. The Homeport Ashore program, which moves the sailors to quarters ashore, is a priority, and requires assigning two or more sailors per room.
This doesn’t meet the Defense Department standard of 90 square feet of living space per person, but it beats living on a ship in port, he said.
Education continues to be a big issue, the advisers said. Preston asked for the lawmakers’ support in making a portion of service members’ GI Bill benefits immediately available to spouses and children, while McKinley advocated employment and education initiatives — such as the ability to easily transfer credits from one school to another when a child moves — to mitigate some of the challenges military families routinely face.