Seaman Rachael Pederson draws blood from a patient at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marines now need fewer medical appointments before and after deployments because some physical and mental health assessments have been rolled into a single visit. (Pfc. Franklin E. Mercado / Marine Corps)
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Changes to the medical policy for pre- and post-deployment health assessments are making the process more convenient for Marines and sailors. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center has combined mental and physical health screenings for deploying service members, an administrative change that means Marines will have to schedule fewer doctor visits, but will receive the same amount of health care.
Any Marine, sailor, Coast Guardsman or Defense Department civilian who spends at least 30 days with boots on the ground in U.S. Central Command takes the assessments. Personnel who remain on ships are exempt. In 2012, nearly 120,000 Marines completed the process.
Marines and sailors previously took seven assessments before and after a deployment. This included three physical health assessments and four mental health assessments. Now two of the mental health assessments have been combined with two physical assessments, reducing the total to five.
As of Jan. 1, troops must complete a pre-deployment assessment; a post-deployment assessment; a post-deployment reassessment; plus two mental health assessments within 30 months of the end of the deployment. Under the new policy, mental health screenings have been rolled into the pre-deployment assessment and the post-deployment reassessment.
The screenings are meant to identify potential physical or mental health problems. A pre-deployment visit might mean answering questions about medication or recent health problems. After your stint in CENTCOM, you'll be asked if you are experiencing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or sleep problems that could be tied to the deployment.
The number of medical evals has grown through the years as concerns about health — particularly mental health — have emerged from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, there were only two assessments. That number gradually increased, and Congress mandated mental health tests in 2011. The Navy couldn't immediately combine the mental and physical assessments because it needed to get new forms approved. "This meant a member had to complete seven separate health assessments for one deployment over a 2½-year period," said Chris Rennix, head of the Epidemiology Data Department at NMCPHC.
Participants log into an NMCPHC website, https://data.nmcphc.med.navy.mil/edha, and complete a series of questions. From there, they schedule an appointment with a medical provider trained for these assessments. A person who is relatively healthy without any lingering problems will likely spend 15 to 20 minutes with his or her health care provider, but others with health concerns could take up to 20 minutes longer.
"Most units and commands do the deployment health assessment as a group to efficiently use the medical provider's time and to keep compliance rates high," Rennix said.