Using the military to provide health services

Updated
 
Military personnel performing dentistry in rural Alabama.
Military personnel performing dentistry in rural Alabama.
Associated Press

The men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces are called upon to perform some pretty extraordinary tasks, including heroic health care services for injured troops in the field at in V.A. hospitals.

What’s less recognized is military personnel sometimes bring health care services to civilians in rural communities (thanks to reader R.M. for the tip).

An Air Force dentist pulls teeth in the oil-stained garage where the town’s fire truck normally parks. A reservist in camouflage dispenses free medicine in the police department lobby.

The doctoring Wednesday was part of a military program to provide free health care in poor areas of the South and whose latest mission came to one of Alabama’s most impoverished regions, where the teams have treated more than 12,000 people in less than two weeks. The work helps fill a gap in an area with few doctors and a multitude of medical problems, many of them linked to the obesity that is rampant in the state.

All day, people with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, rotting teeth and failing eyes wait to see doctors, nurses and other uniformed health professionals from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Navy Reserve at Hayneville City Hall, which has been temporarily converted into a health clinic for the program.

The clinics are part of a federal-state-partnership program that has also treated low-income patients in Arkansas and Mississippi. The AP report noted that servicemen and women “learn to set up health clinics and other projects and deal with large numbers of people, just as they might do after a natural disaster or in a foreign county.”

I’m delighted that these families and their communities are getting sorely-needed health services, and I’m glad the military has agreed to participate in such efforts. I can’t help but wonder, though, if there isn’t a broader lesson here – if there are parts of the country where the basic health care network is so meager that we need the military to provide routine services, then maybe there’s a larger concern about the system and the public’s access to it?

What does it tell us about these areas of the deep South when their status quo can be compared to communities in foreign countries or areas hit by a natural disaster?

And maybe we should appreciate those systemic failures before Republican proceed with their plans to gut Medicaid and eliminate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act?

Using the military to provide health services

Updated