Or, “So you wanna follow your Prettiest-Nurse-in-the-Navy wife to Okinawa, do ya?”
Well you’d better have your shots up-to-date, Mister!
So, there’s the Holy Grail required to go overseas with a military spouse: the DEA. No, nothing to do the Drug Enforcement Agency, nor anything remotely close to a Data Encryption Algorithm (although give it time and the Navy will connect a dependent’s entry to BOTH), but the DEA is a document called “Dependent Entry Approval,” the couple of pages of paper that officially allow me to travel to and enter Okinawa as a “command-sponsored” dependent of an Active Duty member in the Navy…. Oh, and it prohibits two things (and only two things): 1) firearms (there is such thing as reasonable gun control & ownership in the world, contrary to popular belief & mystery in America), and 2) pornography. Where is the fun these days in the military??
Blah-blah-blah. What one doesn’t understand is the near (in)action of Congress that is required to get this dang document. Case-in-point: shots & immunizations.
So, as some of you may know, I’m a retired Navy officer myself. Who’s been stationed in Okinawa TWICE before, for a total of four years. AND, I deployed, numerous times, to numerous war zones. Oh, and I maintained “Flight Status” for 20 years. Big deal, you might say. Well, this is all to mean that one just may think that just maybe I maintained my shots for all that time in the military, while have annual flight physicals, while deploying over and over again….
One might thing. But then again, military intelligence is, as they say, an oxymoron.
So, during my medical screening at the Navy Hospital here in town, the Doc asked about shots. I informed her – a Physician’s Assistant – that I was pretty sure I was good, and that my medical record should have everything there since I had recently retired, and retired here in Pensacola. Cool. Smiles all around. “I’ll review your record and let you know,” she responded as we parted ways.
Weeks go by. Nothing heard.
Then, in the prototypical “your-crisis-shouldn’t-be-my-emergency,” an Overseas Screening staff member calls me one day “looking for my shot record.” Well, I inform the junior Petty Officer, “It’s in my medical record.” “Oh, okay, of course. We’ll look for that; I need your full SSN.” Odd, I think: seriously, you don’t or can’t find my full social security number? Fine, passed, done deal.
More time goes by.
Turns out that my record cannot be located at the hospital. The hospital where I have been treated since 2005. The military treatment facility (MTF) that retired me, that assumed control of my medical record at retirement! Turns out that it “appears” that my record has been archived, but amazingly enough, there is no firm trail, paper or otherwise. Let’s ignore all the HIPAA implications at present.
Well, I have a copy of my shot record, and, in fact, a copy of my ENTIRE medical record, since copies are required at retirement for the VA. However, that copy was only current as of 2008, and I couldn’t quite remember if I had gotten more shots. More importantly, I am the type of person that likes to FORCE processes to show when those processes are either archaic or just plain broken. Oh, and I like people to do their jobs at the same time as well.
As you might guess, this process was just plain broken: no sign, no record, not even a hint of a medical record, let alone shot record to deploy to Okinawa!
So, numerous discussion ensue. “You all realize that I’m a retired aviator, and certainly not only met entry requirements into the military, but maintained all those shot requirements for 20 years?” “You guys realize that I actually deployed where smallpox and anthrax shots were required, and given those, don’t you think I had the MMR as a child??” “Oh, and you realize that I actually was successfully screened to live in Japan, TWICE before, while on active duty?!?” Or, thinking to myself, do you really think that all those checks in the military over 24 years (counting ROTC) missed some blatantly obvious shots that are, in fact, required for secondary school registration!
Sorry, need the “proof.”
Fine, Jody says. She’s in the medical loop, and attempts to direct the junior Petty Office at overseas screening to access the electronic version of my shot record. This version, a relative stand-alone document in the Navy’s medical world, specific to immunizations (as best I understand it), is not accessible by just anyone – wouldn’t want the overseas screening staff to actually be able to screen someone for overseas duty. Turns out they can’t access this record. Although I would prefer to push the issue and make THEM find a way, Jody accesses it herself, and sends a copy to overseas screening. Oh, and she actually goes through my ENTIRE few hundred pages of medical record and finds all the areas where my shots & immunizations are annotated….
Not good enough. No, there’s no proof of chicken pox (shots or the disease), and oh no, I need a flu shot! Okay, we’ll handle these issues one-at-a-time.
I’m no conspiracy theorists, but I do harbor a healthy mistrust of the military (read: government), shots, and my body. Not that they are out to get me, but just that they have generally a pretty dismal record of, well, not even just not caring, but of maliciously doing things that are ethically questionable by any other reasonable standard. Not that the flu shot falls into this category of concern (it does not), but then again I don’t fall into the at-risk population for that particular disease. In my final personal analysis, I choose, for a number of (personal) reasons, not to take the flu shot/mist since retiring….
And they can’t make me. You see, I’m not longer active duty, but a mere dependent. Which means I am not their (government) property, as the cliché goes….
So, I tell Jody that they are going to have to show me in writing where the flu shot is required for me to do that. I feign aggressiveness at calling the fraud, waste, & abuse hotline, as well as the inspector general at my “missing” medical record and all the privacy concerns that raises. So, Jody goes back to overseas screen and asks about their “list” of “requirements” for dependents’ entry into Japan. “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan.” “So, is it a requirement, or a recommendation??” “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan….” Enough said. I take that as a recommendation only. No flu shot for this guy.
Finally, we come down to chicken pox. Now I understand there is a resurgence of chicken pox, mainly because of failures in early childhood vaccination, or adults who were never vaccinated (properly). Worse yet, there is no record of those shots for me: I had the chicken pox as a child. How the heck do you prove that? Well, the Navy can draw blood and check something called blood “titers” for the right level of antibodies…. Needles? Needles are worse than spiders, but just barely. Another medical appointment and trip to the hospital to be treated poorly and seen late? Heck no to both, I claim! Don’t get me started on spiders….
So, I do have my original medical shot record from when I was an infant and child (pictured above). Thanks to my Mother who insisted on copies, and insisted – and taught me how valuable and critical such a document was and remains. It looks nothing like anything official; a collection of typed and hand-written notes on lined paper, some with date stamps, others with scribbled initials or signatures. But it certainly is enough to show all those childhood requirements…once the medical hieroglyphics are deciphered and penmanship failures are placed.
But how do you prove that you’ve had chicken pox when you were a kid, like in the early 1970s? C’mon. Well, let’s just say that Photoshop is my friend, and that early childhood record captures my run-in with chicken pox just fine…NOW.
So, after all this back & forth over shots, after ignoring my own military service and previous overseas screening for Japan, after all the searching and attempts at accessing my health records, it all came down to a much-photocopied single piece of paper of immunizations which has really no possible means of positive verification.
And this, Ladies & Gentlemen, is what was ultimately accepted. And I have my all-important DEA to follow Jody halfway around the world. Thanks Mom, seriously.
Now, about those guns and porn…(wink).
- As evidence of Agent Orange in Okinawa stacks up, U.S. sticks with blanket denial (japantimes.co.jp)
- Marines ease drinking restrictions on Okinawa (stripes.com)
- US Air Force grounds F-15s on Okinawa after crash (foxnews.com)
- Finds raise toxic chemical suspicions at ex-Kadena site (japantimes.co.jp)