Military Children’s Health Month: Taking care of our youngest beneficiaries
Dr. Terry Adirim, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Services Policy and Oversight
The Military Health System is dedicated to making sure we provide good care to our service members, retirees, and families. As a pediatric emergency physician for more than 20 years, I have witnessed heartbreaking scenes of children brought in for treatment after some terrible accident or illness, so I know firsthand how important it is to do our best for our most vulnerable. During April’s focus on Military Children’s Health, I’d like to spend a few minutes drawing attention to our youngest beneficiaries.
Parents go off to war leaving their children behind. We know that if a child of a deployed service member experiences health care issues, that service member thousands of miles away also has trouble. Our duty in the Military Health System is to provide peace of mind by guaranteeing health care for children.
One of the advantages we have in the MHS is a patient-centered medical home model, which came from the pediatrics field. These models include physicians, nurses, medics, medical technicians, social workers, and case managers, just to name a few. Providers and patients are able to take a more proactive approach to health care and focus on prevention. Having a single “home” as the center for primary care gives us a template for better coordination.
Despite the challenge of frequent moves for families, the military offers several avenues to ensure no one falls through the cracks. One such path is the Exceptional Family Member Program, which helps families gain assignments where appropriate care is available and navigate the medical and educational systems to try to match the needs of the military and its family members. TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option provides supplemental services to active duty family members with unique needs to ensure an integrated set of services and supplies, such as special education, assistive technology devices, and home health care. In recent years enhancements expanded or added new benefits based on feedback from families. The Department of Defense Office of Military Family Readiness provides resources through Military OneSource, a one-stop shop for answers to military life questions, including parenting tips and children’s health. All of these programs recognize that children’s health is more than making sure a case of the sniffles is cared for; it goes into the social realm of children’s well-being.
We don’t rest on our laurels and work in a vacuum when it comes to military children’s health. We continuously review our policies to see what changes are needed so children receive evidence-based services. The MHS leadership is committed to the health of all family members.
According to Military OneSource, about 40 percent of service members have children, so it’s important to pay attention to this large segment of our beneficiary population. Surveys indicate that many children of service members follow their parents into the military. Taking care of them today is an investment in the future.
The bottom line: Good health for military children supports the readiness of our warfighters and makes it easier to accept those family members if they decide to volunteer to be part of our great military. But the simplest and most important point is one on which we can all agree: It’s the right thing to do.