Fun With Army Medical

Official disclaimer: nothing in this post reflects the views of the Department of Defense, the Army, the Marines, etc. This is only the unofficially terrible, wrong and poorly written opinion of one person who happened to have served at some point since 9/11. You have been warned.

Immediately after you return from a deployment, the Army has you fill out a Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA), and 90 days after that, the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA). These consist of questions regarding basic physical and mental health, drug and alcohol use, etc. Each phase is completed by a phone call with a doctor where they go over your answers with you and make sure you have no questions or other issues.

It’s a straight forward process, and in my opinion it is very beneficial to returning soldiers. You may be surprised that I support this process, and that if I do, why I am writing about it here, given that all of my other Army posts are about its screw-ups? Because the Army deserves credit where it is due, and when something works like it is supposed to work, that is worth noting. However, as you will see below, even when the Army gets something right, the process is not without its issues.

So, after my recent deployment to Afghanistan, I started to get a tingling or numbness in my left hand, specifically the ring finger and pinkie. Nothing crazy; it feels like after your funny bone gets hit and the tingling is almost gone, but not quite, and it’s all the time. I’ve put up with it so far for many reasons: laziness, just not wanting to deal with it, fear of the possibility of surgery, and sheer stubbornness.

During the PDHRA, one of the questions asks if you have any numbness or tingling in your hands. In a new-found effort to be honest with the Army about my health, I answered yes. I say new-found honesty because when I returned from Iraq I was honest about how much I was drinking, and they tried to get me into a program. You keep a red-blooded American soldier away from booze for 15 months, and then act surprised when he lives it up a little when he gets home? Come-on. That little fiasco taught me to never be honest about my health with the Army if whatever ailing me isn’t keeping me from showing up every day. Below is the months-long conversation that has resulted from my current bout of honesty.

Before we get to that, I will need to define some Army-specific terms so the conversation makes sense and the absurdity of the entire process is clear.

Army Knowledge Online: or AKO, the Army’s one-stop-shop website for everything a soldier needs in their career. Medical, administrative, training, records; there are links for all of these and more on AKO. The systems that track all this stuff can all be accessed through AKO. In theory, a soldier merely has to log into AKO to be able to view the status or documents pertaining to any aspect of his career. In practice, it’s a poorly designed and never updated website that has hundreds of systems feeding data into it, none of which work well together, if at all. When an Army support person tells you to log into AKO to do something, it is the equivalent of telling you to go fuck yourself.

Profile: a medical form that describes a particular medical condition. Usually a profile is duty-limiting, such as “cannot carry equipment in excess of 60 lbs,” or “cannot perform the push-up,” but they don’t have to be. A soldier can have a profile for needing glasses, which doesn’t limit their duty, but keeps everyone informed of their condition.

Line-of-Duty: or LOD, is the Army paperwork for documenting an injury sustained in the line of duty. This paperwork is the gateway for treatment in the future, especially if a soldier is a reservist (like me), because reservists don’t have free government healthcare like active duty soldiers. An LOD is also the foundation for determining disability levels at retirement. So, if you get hurt while on active duty, you fill one of these out, your commander signs it, and it’s submitted to the medical folks. Then, when you retire you can lie about how this injury has been negatively affecting you ever since, and you should get some of your retirement money tax-exempt.

Anyway, here’s the conversation that resulted from being honest during my PDHRA:

Army: Do you have any numbness in your hands?

Me: Yes.

Army: OK, we’ll get you a referral to see someone.

*Two months later*

Army: Why haven’t you seen someone about the numbness in your hand?

Me: Because you never gave me a referral, like you said you would.

Army: Oh. It’s on your medical portal on AKO.

Me: I can’t find it. That portal is a waste of time and now my blood pressure is up from fucking around on it and getting nowhere, and from the realization that the so-called greatest fighting force in human history cannot even develop a usable website.

Army: OK. Call this number, it’s the nearest Military Treatment Facility to you; they are tracking your referral.

Me: I called them, and they don’t have any record of me in their referral system.

Army: Oh yeah, it’s under profiles on AKO. Here are step-by-step directions to access it.

Me: I checked and it’s not showing anything, especially a profile, which I don’t have because I never saw a military doctor for this condition and got a profile, if I would even need one.

Army: OK…send me your LOD paperwork.

Me: I don’t have an LOD. I wasn’t injured.

Army: We can start the LOD process now, if you want.

Me: I don’t want to, because I wasn’t injured. You asked me if I had numbness in my hands. I do, so I said yes. I don’t know why I have numbness, but it’s not because of an official, documented injury from when I was activated. That’s why I need to see a doctor.

Army: OK, sure you don’t want to start an LOD?

Me: YES! All I want is either a referral to get my hand looked at, or to be left alone about it. If I fill out an LOD, I would have to lie, and apparently that’s something the Army frowns upon.

Army: OK, just let me know if you want to fill out an LOD.

*One month later*

Army: I spoke to your usual Military Treatment Facility, and they said you don’t need a referral. Just go in and tell them your issue is deployment-related.

Me: I am a reservist, so I don’t have a usual Military Treatment Facility or have military health insurance, and I’m pretty sure I cannot just walk into an MTF and demand to be seen without some sort of paperwork. Right?

Army: That’s a good question. Let me check and I’ll get back to you.

*One month later*

Army: You don’t need any paperwork, just head into the MTF and tell them your issue is related to a deployment and they’ll look you up in the system and take care of you.

Me: OK, that sounds suspiciously easy, but whatever. I’ve already got an appointment to get this looked at by my usual civilian doctor, so after that I’ll get the paperwork sent to the military healthcare folks. Thanks for your help, I guess.

*One month later*

Army: Just following up to see if you have been treated for your condition at the MTF. Thank you for your service.

Dennis Hatherly

(Politics and Military)

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