Veterans Affairs:

Post-hearing Questions Regarding the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs Providing Seamless Health Care Coverage to Transitioning Veterans

GAO-04-294R: Published: Nov 25, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 25, 2003.

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The Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs requested that GAO respond to follow-up questions on its testimony on its report "Hand-off or Fumble: Are DOD and VA Providing Seamless Health Care Coverage to Transitioning Veterans?"

GAO believes that strong leadership and appropriate follow-through are key to improving compliance with force protections and surveillance policies for Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is encouraged that the compliance problems it found for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Joint Guardian prompted the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the military services' Surgeons General to promptly take a number of actions to help ensure compliance with the Department of Defense's (DOD) force health protection and surveillance policies. Operation Iraqi Freedom is an ongoing operation with deployments of servicemembers who presumably are covered by the new quality assurance programs. On the basis these actions, GAO is optimistic that progress is occurring. However, the extent of compliance can be determined only from an examination of servicemembers' medical records. Knowing which servicemembers were at certain locations at specific times in the theater of operations is important for determining their possible exposures to chemical, biological, or environmental health hazards that DOD may know about currently or later discover. Without this exposure information, it would likely be more problematic for the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine a presumption of service-connection and to ascertain whether treatments are appropriate. When GAO issued its May 1997 report, DOD had not finalized its draft joint medical surveillance policy. DOD subsequently finalized its joint medical surveillance policy in August 1997. Although there are some methodological differences between the May 1997 and September 2003 reports, it is clear that force health protection and surveillance compliance problems continue in several areas. However, there appears to be some improvement in DOD's collection of predeployment blood serum samples from deploying servicemembers.

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