The promise of good, reliable health care for service members and their families is one of the most important things the nation promises to provide to the small fraction of Americans who volunteer to serve.
That’s why it was so disturbing to read the recent Military Times investigation from reporter Karen Jowers, which revealed how the Army and the Air Force have been handling — or mishandling — the health records of military children.
For years, the Army and the Air Force have been quietly merging the childhood medical records of former military dependents with the medical records of new military recruits.
This looks like a deep violation of trust between the Defense Department and military families. Arguably, it’s a violation of federal health care privacy laws — or, at least, an ethical violation.
To illustrate the problem that likely affects hundreds, if not thousands, of former military children, the story focused on one Army family, the De La Rosas.
Years ago, as their daughters struggled with the routine angst of adolescence as well as the stress of their father’s repeated deployments to Afghanistan and their frequent moves, the parents encouraged their daughters to seek counseling for better coping skills, which they did.
In 2016, when daughter Juliet De La Rosa was in basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, she was called in for a medical review. Air Force health providers saw mental health notations in her dependent medical record, and they promptly forced her out.
“Never once were we or Juliet told that she was being diagnosed with disorders. Never once was Juliet medicated,” her father, Army Maj. Rudy De La Rosa said.
And despite multiple clean bills of health from DoD and civilian mental health providers, both girls have been denied waivers to join the military.
What’s wrong with this policy?
Federal law protects most Americans’ medical information under a 1996 health care privacy law known as HIPAA.
The military medical system doesn’t provide parents with any disclaimers about how behavioral health visits could affect their child’s future military service.
This policy unfairly penalizes military children because children raised in the civilian health care system would never — ever — find that their records were automatically shared with DoD.
Most importantly, this is the definition of stigmatization. This policy will discourage military children from seeking help, which is exactly the opposite of what military leaders for years have encouraged.
The Navy told Military Times that it does not merge electronic records for military children who join the Navy and Marine Corps. But we’ve heard first-hand from people who say that’s not true.
The Navy has since clarified that it’s a matter of semantics — while those records aren’t merged, they’re available for Navy health care providers who have access to the electronic records.
The Pentagon should change this policy. Service members like Army Maj. Rudy De La Rosa should be allowed to deploy knowing the Defense Department is providing good, reliable — and confidential — health care for the children they leave at home.
Right now, that’s not happening.