Teams sent to units to boost post-tour health screenings
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Oct 13, 2007 6:55:15 EDT

The Marine Corps is dispatching contracted medical teams to units throughout the service beginning Monday, to deal with the backlog of leathernecks awaiting required mental and physical health screenings usually given three months following a deployment.

The initiative comes three months after data compiled by the Defense Department showed less than 20 percent of leathernecks received these follow-up post-deployment health reassessments.

The initial post-deployment health assessment is common, but Navy and Marine Corps health officials said far fewer Marines know about the reassessment given between three and six months after a unit returns. The reassessment is considered a critical step toward alerting doctors to ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chemical exposures to the skin and lungs.

The Corps made boosting the numbers of Marines who receive the DoD-mandated reassessment a priority after learning the other services were doing a far better job of sending their troops to receive the medical screening.

Increased efforts over the past 90 days to get Marines seen by the docs have paid off, as updated results show the Corps has increased the number of Marines in compliance by 20 percent, according to the Army Medical Surveillance Activity. This has increased the Corps’ overall compliance rate to 38 percent.

The medical teams will be made up of physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical clerks, equipped with laptops so Marines can take the reassessment on site and receive referrals for medical treatment after the screening is complete.

Exact dates for when the medical teams will arrive at specific units are still being discussed by field managers for the program at Marine Forces Reserve Headquarters and the different Marine Expeditionary Forces headquarters and have yet to be released, according to Paul Bennett, director of Marine Corps Manpower Information Systems, now charged with increasing the numbers.

Before, a common complaint was the lack of knowledge commanders had about this command-directed program, Marine officials said. Now, the program has moved from the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery to Marine Corps Headquarters, where more people are hearing about it.

“Direct communication with commanders has elevated awareness of the program,” Bennett said.