For many of us in the military, injuries are simply a way of life. Whether it is the awkward soreness after a long run, or the nagging shoulder pain that has stuck around for two years, it is something we have come to know and equally hate. Thankfully, though, the high quality medical services are available that are more than capable of assisting in both the treatment and recovery for individuals. Unfortunately, the barriers to getting to that treatment can be challenging to get through.
Each branch of the Armed Services is a bit different in how it provides and receives medical care. That is not to say that the care differs, but simply the path to that care may vary. Some branches are less rigid in their processes, create less hurdles and limit their service members less than others. It is not until one works on a joint base, that he or she becomes aware of these differences.
In the Army, and specifically in the combat arms positions, medical care is initiated at the medic level during sick call. Here, the medic identifies what he or she believes the issue is, whether it is treatable at their level, and if not, provides a sick call slip for the service member to see the next level of care. If approved, soldiers usually go to the Troop Medical Clinic (TMC) where they are seen by a clinical medic and perhaps a primary care provider. The running joke is that the standard of care is to take a knee, drink water, face out and down some ibuprofen. That is not truly the standard, but it happens enough that it has become a joke.
Depending on the nature of the injury, and especially if it is hard to visually identify, a service member’s care may not be quickly provided. Often, the next step is short term profiles to restrict specific activities and a ‘wait and see’ approach. In many cases, if the situation continues, the hurdles get more bureaucratic.
Like a game of chutes and ladders, soldiers must navigate the system. They must go to sick call to get an appointment with their primary care provider. To get to physical therapy, they must get a referral. Before they can be seen by orthopedics, they must get an x-ray, four weeks of physical therapy and an MRI. This process may add weeks to months onto the diagnosis of an issue based on provider availability and soldier schedule.
Once they get to the correct provider, the treatment is often quickly forthcoming as the provider can identify the issue and plan a specific regiment of care. The process to get to the specialist, though, can create a burden to medical care that results in soldiers foregoing adequate care and dealing with long term health effects.
Often simple injuries, left untreated, can become lifelong ailments. While there is a balancing act of providing appropriate care, and overwhelming the medical system, no one should be put on the slow bureaucratic process for care and treatment. Clinics and hospitals may identify the practice as weeding out the people with minor issues to ensure that those with serious issues can see specialists. It means that almost regardless of the injury, everyone is lumped into the same care process.
It is appropriate to question whether the generic treatment paths are adequate – or whether they need to be re-examined to improve the care of our service members. Although no answer is without its own costs, asking the question is perhaps the most important part of seeking constant improvement.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.