US Defense Employees In Japan Struggle For Health Care After DOD Scaled Down Services, Failed To Tell Tokyo

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Pentagon leaders failed to notify Tokyo it was restricting health care options at military bases for thousands of Department of Defense (DOD) civilian employees, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.

The Pentagon scaled down on-base medical facilities to deal with urgent or acute medical events only as of Jan. 1, telling thousands of non-military employees on DOD bases in Japan to seek care for chronic, long-term conditions within Japan’s health care system, Stars and Stripes reported. However, the U.S. never officially communicated the plan to Japanese authorities, leaving DOD civilians struggling to access routine medical care, individuals with knowledge of the matter told the outlet.

“We have not been specifically contacted by the U.S. side and we are not aware of the matter,” a spokesman for Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs told the outlet on Jan. 24. A ministry of defense spokesperson likewise said the ministry was not aware of the situation. (RELATED: Japan Reverses Course, Announces Largest Military Buildup Since WWII Amid Rising China Threat)

An official at Yokosuka Kyosai Hospital near Yokosuka Naval Base, the homeport of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, said he learned of the policy from a Stars and Stripes inquiry in 2022 and as of Wednesday had yet to hear official word of the policy.

Japan is not obligated to provide health care to U.S. military personnel according to the status of forces agreement allowing U.S. armed forces to occupy Japanese territory.

“I can see that it’s difficult, particularly in Japan, most often because of a language barrier and they are thrown into a different health care environment, and I can see their struggle,” NTT Medical Center Tokyo Director Dr. Ryu Sasae told the outlet, adding that he learned of the policy change through unofficial channels.

Civilian employees scramble to claim appointment slots in family medicine, gynecology, pediatrics and internal medicine at DOD hospitals each morning, the outlet reported.

Defense Health Agency (DHA) Indo-Pacific regional director Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Heck advised DOD civilians to “have a plan in place” for alternative health care options in October, according to Stars and Stripes. On Jan. 1, military medical facilities limited capacity for serving DOD civilian employees to only space-available, same-day appointments.

“Treatment on a space available basis does not allow for continuous management of chronic health problems,” Heck said in a memo dated Dec. 9, the outlet reported.

U.S. Forces Japan “did recently notify” the government of Japan but could not confirm whether or how the government conveyed the DHA policy change to local hospitals, Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Wright told  Stars and Stripes Friday.

“The notification was made recently rather than prior to the effective date as its implementation across the medical treatment facilities in Japan was an evolving process, and as such we wanted to make official notifications with as much accuracy as possible and not cause confusion,” he wrote.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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