DOD Health Care:

Domestic Health Care for Female Servicemembers

GAO-13-205: Published: Jan 29, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2013.

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WilliamsonR@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense's (DOD) policy for assessing the individual medical readiness of a servicemember to deploy establishes six elements to review, most of which are gender-neutral. Four of the six elements--immunization status, medical readiness laboratory tests, individual medical equipment, and dental readiness--apply equally to female and male servicemembers. The remaining elements of individual medical readiness--deployment-limiting conditions and periodic health assessments--include aspects that are specific to female servicemembers. For example, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have policies that define pregnancy as a deployment-limiting condition.

Officials surveyed by GAO reported that female-specific health care services and behavioral health services were generally available through domestic Army installations. Specifically, according to GAO's survey results:

  • Most routine female-specific health care services--pelvic examinations, clinical breast examinations, pap smears, prescription of contraceptives, and pregnancy tests--were available at the 27 surveyed domestic Army installations.

  • The availability of specialized health care services--treatment of abnormal pap smears, prenatal care, labor and delivery, benign gynecological disorders, postpartum care, and surgical, medical, and radiation treatment of breast, ovarian, cervical, and uterine cancers--at the 27 surveyed domestic Army installations varied. However, when these services were not available at the installation, they could be obtained through either another military treatment facility (MTF) or from a civilian network provider.

  • The availability of behavioral health services, such as psychotherapy or substance abuse treatment, which were not gender-specific, varied across the 27 domestic Army installations; however, similar to specialty care, these services could be obtained from other MTFs or civilian network providers. In addition, 18 of the 27 surveyed Army installations reported offering female-specific programs or activities, such as a post-deployment group for female servicemembers or a postpartum group.

One DOD organization, the Women's Health Research Interest Group, is currently in the process of identifying research gaps on health issues affecting female servicemembers. Interest group officials said that the goal is to develop a repository for peer-reviewed research articles related to health issues for female servicemembers, including those who served in combat, and to use this repository to identify research that could enhance the health care of female servicemembers, including those who have served in a combat zone. To ensure that researchers will have access to the results of their work, officials have plans to distribute their results in presentations at local and national conferences. In addition, officials told GAO that they will disseminate their findings through peer-reviewed publications and post this information on the Internet to make it available to the public.

GAO provided a draft of this report to DOD for comment. DOD responded that it did not have any comments on the draft report.

Why GAO Did This Study

Female servicemembers are serving in more complex occupational specialties and are being deployed to combat operations, potentially leading to increased health risks. Similar to their male counterparts, female servicemembers must maintain their medical readiness; however, they have unique health care needs that require access to gender-specific services. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 directed GAO to review a variety of issues related to health care for female servicemembers. This report describes (1) the extent that DOD's policies for assessing individual medical readiness include unique health care issues of female servicemembers; (2) the availability of health care services to meet the unique needs of female servicemembers at domestic Army installations; and (3) the extent that DOD's research organizations have identified a need for research on the specific health care needs of female servicemembers who have served in combat.

GAO reviewed DOD and military-service policies on individual medical readiness and surveyed senior health care officials about the availability of specific health services at the 27 domestic Army installations with MTFs that report directly to the domestic regional medical commands. GAO focused on the Army because it has more female servicemembers than the other military services. GAO also visited six Army installations--two from each of the Army's three domestic regional medical commands--and interviewed DOD officials who conduct research on health issues for servicemembers.

For more information, contact Randall B. Williamson, 202-512-7114, williamsonr@gao.gov.

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