Veterans Affairs: Post-hearing Questions Regarding the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs Providing Seamless Health Care Coverage to Transitioning Veterans

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-11-25.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548

          November 25, 2003

          The Honorable Lane Evans
          Ranking Democratic Member
          Committee on Veterans Affairs
          House of Representatives

          Subject: Veterans Affairs: Post-hearing Questions Regarding the Departments of
          Defense and Veterans Affairs Providing Seamless Health Care Coverage to
          Transitioning Veterans

          Dear Mr. Evans:

          On October 16, 2003, I testified before your Subcommittee’s hearing on Hand-off
          or Fumble: Are DOD and VA Providing Seamless Health Care Coverage to
          Transitioning Veterans?1 This letter responds to your request that we provide
          answers to follow-up questions from the hearing. Your questions, along with my
          responses, follow.

          1. “Is there any reason for us to be optimistic that DOD [Department of
          Defense] is in better compliance with force protections and surveillance
          policies for Operation Iraqi Freedom than it was for Operation Enduring
          Freedom and Operation Joint Guardianship? Why or why not?”

          Answer: We believe that strong leadership and appropriate follow-through are key
          to improving compliance. We are encouraged that the compliance problems we
          found for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Joint Guardian prompted the
          Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the military services’ Surgeons
          General to promptly take a number of actions to help ensure compliance with DOD’s
          force health protection and surveillance policies. As you know, we recommended
          that DOD establish an effective quality assurance program that will ensure
          compliance with these policies for all servicemembers.2 In commenting on our
          report, the Assistant Secretary of Defense stated that his office had already
          established a quality assurance program for pre-deployment and post-deployment
          health assessments and that the services have implemented their quality assurance
          programs. As you know, Operation Iraqi Freedom is an ongoing operation with
          deployments of servicemembers who presumably are covered by the new quality
          assurance programs. On the basis these actions, we are optimistic that progress is

            See U.S. General Accounting Office: Defense Health Care: DOD Needs to Improve Force Health
          Protection and Surveillance Processes, GAO-04-158T (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 16, 2003).
            See U.S. General Accounting Office: Defense Health Care: Quality Assurance Process Needed to
          Improve Force Health Protection and Surveillance, GAO-03-1041 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 19, 2003).

                                                                        GAO-04-294R Defense Health Care
occurring. However, the extent of compliance can be determined only from an
examination of servicemembers’ medical records.

2. “You still believe DOD lacks data on troop locations that obviously calls
into question its ability to provide effective surveillance. It won’t have a
system in place until 2007 at the earliest. How could that impair VA’s
[Department of Veterans Affairs] ability to determine presumption of
service-connection and effective treatments for exposures?”

Answer: Knowing which servicemembers were at certain locations at specific times
in the theater of operations is important for determining their possible exposures to
chemical, biological, or environmental health hazards that DOD may know about
currently or later discover. Without this exposure information, it would likely be
more problematic for VA to determine a presumption of service-connection and to
ascertain whether treatments are appropriate.

3. “Has anything improved since your last report on compliance with policies
on force protection and surveillance?”

Answer: When we issued our May 1997 report,3 DOD had not finalized its draft joint
medical surveillance policy. DOD subsequently finalized its joint medical
surveillance policy in August 1997. Although there are some methodological
differences between our May 1997 and September 2003 reports, it is clear that force
health protection and surveillance compliance problems continue in several areas.
However, there appears to be some improvement in DOD’s collection of pre-
deployment blood serum samples from deploying servicemembers. Specifically, we
reported, in our May 1997 report, that 9.3 percent of the 26,000 servicemembers who
had deployed to Bosnia did not have a blood serum sample on file. In contrast, nearly
100 percent of our samples for deployments examined in our September 2003 report
had blood serum samples on file.

                                       _ _ _ _ _

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Office of
the Secretary of Defense, and other interested parties. We will also make copies
available to others upon request. In addition, this report will be available at no charge
on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

 See U.S. General Accounting Office: Defense Health Care: Medical Surveillance Improved Since
Gulf War, but Mixed Results in Bosnia, GAO/NSIAD-97-136 (Washington, D.C.: May 13, 1997).

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If you have any questions about this report or need additional information, please call
me at (757) 552-8100.

Sincerely yours,

Neal P. Curtin
Director, Operations and Readiness Issues


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