VA and Defense Health Care:

Military Medical Surveillance Policies in Place, but Implementation Challenges Remain

GAO-02-478T: Published: Feb 27, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2002.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently established a medical surveillance system to respond to the health care needs of both military personnel and veterans. A medical surveillance system involves the ongoing collection and analysis of uniform information on deployments, environmental health threats, disease monitoring, medical assessments, and medical encounters and its timely dissemination to military commanders, medical personnel, and others. GAO and others have reported extensively on weaknesses in DOD's medical surveillance capability and performance during the Gulf War and Operation Joint Endeavor. Investigations into the unexplained illnesses of Gulf War veterans revealed DOD's inability to collect, maintain, and transfer accurate data on the movement of troops, potential exposures to health risks, and medical incidents during deployment. DOD improved its medical surveillance system under Operation Joint Endeavor, which provided useful information to military commanders and medical personnel. However, several problems persist. DOD has several efforts under way to improve the reliability of deployment information and enhance its information technology capabilities. Although its recent policies and reorganization reflect a commitment to establish a comprehensive medical surveillance system, much needs to be done to implement the system. To the extent DOD's medical surveillance capability is realized, VA will be better able to serve veterans and provide backup to DOD in times of war.

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