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Under cuts, families struggle to get medical appointments

Aug. 29, 2013 - 04:48PM   |  
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Difficulty getting medical appointments tops the list of military families’ complaints during the current budget crunch, according to family advocates.

The National Military Family Association put out a call earlier this summer asking how sequestration has affected families, and has received about 200 responses, said NMFA spokeswoman Michelle Joyner. NMFA is compiling the responses and will report to lawmakers Sept. 12.

Families have also expressed concern that their service members were taking the brunt of staffing shortages and furloughs, said Joyner. Service members have been overworked as they take on the work of other people, she said. Military personnel were exempt from furloughs.

Families cited difficulties especially in getting obstetrics/gynecology and pediatric appointments, Joyner said. Some families are being referred to emergency rooms when appointments are not available in clinics.

Others have had trouble getting emergency care as well as routine care.

Army CW3 Willie Gunn’s wife is having trouble getting appointments for her Type 2 Diabetes condition in the Washington, D.C., area, even to get authorizations for prescription refills, he said, in an interview from Berlin, where he is stationed. His wife was denied command sponsorship overseas because of her medical conditions. His daughter has joined him to start the school year. Gunn was hoping his wife could join him at the end of the year, he said, “but now that she can’t get routine care to show she’s improving, it will take months.”

She was easily able to get appointments at the clinic at Bolling Air Force Base, early this year, but after the onset of sequestration is having to wait at least a month. When she had a problem with her leg, Tricare gave her authorization to go to a civilian clinic, but only for the emergency.

One spouse in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area wrote to NMFA that she uses military medical facilities and Johns Hopkins U.S. Family Health Plan as an alternative to Tricare. Her son had a concussion, and she was told that they may need to pay at least $250 out of pocket. “I realize we opted out of Tricare, but not to be covered at an MTF as a dependent and not have any other options in the ... area for emergency is crazy!” she wrote.

Blue Star Families advocates also are hearing about problems making medical appointments, said Vivan Greentree, the organization’s director of research and policy. “Clinics are reducing hours and availability,” she said, and specialist appointments are being reduced. Another common concern relates to care center hours. “The child care affects employment, and the difficulty in securing medical appointments is frustrating to families who don’t understand why they are being cut.”

Joyner said NMFA has heard some references to libraries being closed, but generally have not heard of programs or services being completely shut down.

In an email to Military Times, one Navy spouse said her daughter was disappointed when her diving class was canceled at the base pool because of sequestration, and like other commissaries around the world, their commissary’s days were cut.

“Those are kind of a bummer, but more inconveniences. The real issue comes with how future cuts are looming,” she wrote.

At the Association of the United States Army, “most of the comments I have heard regard the confusion and uncertainty around the budget cuts,” said Patty Barron, director of family programs. “Lots of rumors out there and no real answers.”

The overall tone of the comments about sequestration, NMFA’s Joyner said, “is the general stress it causes ... how the unknown creates the stress and worry.” Families are frustrated, she said, “about how illogical this is. And there are only a few people who can make a difference.

“So many military families are solution finders. But there’s not much we can do individually, which is why we’ve decided to take on this effort“ and let lawmakers know the effects, she said.

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