DOD can do 'better job' of getting care to Guard and Reserves

WASHINGTON, March 28, 1997 (GulfLINK) - Dr. Stephen Joseph, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, says the Defense Department needs to do a "better job" of assuring that every Guardsman and Reservist with a Gulf War illness gets the care they deserve.

Answering questions before the Senate Armed Services Committee February 27, Joseph said, "Reserves have the option of coming into either the VA or the DOD [Department of Defense] Clinical Evaluation Program. If they come into the DOD Clinical Evaluation Program and they are diagnosed with a condition related to their Gulf War service, they are eligible for continued care in the DOD health care system."

"If they are diagnosed with a condition where that connection is not clear, they are eligible for ongoing care in the VA system," Joseph said.

"I think there may be some Guard and Reserve veterans - I think the number is small, but it's real and it's important no matter how small it is - where that link has not been tightly made. So, the question is, do we do everything we should do in terms of referring that individual Guardsman or Reservist over to the VA system where the care is available to him and her or can we do a better job in that? . . . We can do a better job of it and we have that in progress," he told the committee.

At the beginning of the hearing, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced he would be introducing legislation that day to "authorize the Department of Defense to provide medical care to Reserve and Guard component service members who became ill following their service in the Gulf War." He said, "It's hard to believe that these service members . . . fall through the cracks."

The McCain bill was introduced February 27 and referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee for action.