As the Department of Defense (DOD) has expanded its involvement in overseas military operations, it has grown increasingly reliant on its federal civilian workforce to support contingency operations. The Senate Armed Services Committee required GAO to examine DOD’s policies concerning the health care for DOD civilians who deploy in support of contingency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. GAO analyzed over 3,400 deployment-related records for deployed federal civilians and interviewed department officials to determine the extent to which DOD has established and the military services and defense agencies (hereafter referred to as DOD components) have implemented (1) force health protection and surveillance policies and (2) medical treatment policies and procedures for its deployed federal civilians. GAO also examined the differences in special pays and benefits provided to DOD’s deployed federal civilians and military personnel.
DOD has established force health protection and surveillance policies to assess and reduce or prevent health risks for its deployed federal civilian personnel, but it lacks procedures to ensure implementation. Our review of over 3,400 deployment records at eight component locations found that components lacked documentation that some federal civilian personnel who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq had received, among other things, required pre- and post-deployment health assessments and immunizations. These deficiencies were most prevalent at Air Force and Navy locations, and one Army location. As a larger issue, DOD lacked complete and centralized data to readily identify its deployed federal civilians and their movement in theater, further hindering its efforts to assess the overall effectiveness of its force health protection and surveillance capabilities. In August 2006, DOD issued a revised policy which outlined procedures that are intended to address these shortcomings. However, these procedures are not comprehensive enough to ensure that DOD will know the extent to which its components are complying with existing health protection requirements. In particular, the procedures do not establish an oversight and quality assurance mechanism for assessing the implementation of its force health protection and surveillance requirements. Until DOD establishes a mechanism to strengthen its force health protection and surveillance oversight, it will not be effectively positioned to ensure compliance with its policies, or the health care and protection of deployed federal civilians. DOD has also established medical treatment policies for its deployed federal civilians which provide those who require treatment for injuries or diseases sustained during overseas hostilities with care that is equivalent in scope to that provided to active duty military personnel under the DOD military health system. GAO reviewed a sample of seven workers’ compensation claims (out of a universe of 83) filed under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act by DOD federal civilians who deployed to Iraq. GAO found in three cases where care was initiated in theater, that the affected civilians had received treatment in accordance with DOD’s policies. In all seven cases, DOD federal civilians who requested care after returning to the United States had, in accordance with DOD’s policies, received medical examinations and/or treatment for their deployment-related injuries or diseases through either military or civilian treatment facilities. DOD provides certain special pays and benefits to its deployed federal civilians, which generally differ in type and/or amount from those provided to deployed military personnel. For example, both civilian and military personnel are eligible to receive disability benefits for deployment-related injuries; however, the type and amount of these benefits vary, and some are unique to each group. Further, while the survivors of deceased federal civilian and military personnel generally receive similar types of cash survivor benefits, the comparative amounts of these benefits differ.