Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Medical care on the move
Tiffany Vaeth’s summer plans include three doctor’s appointments in three states.
Vaeth is moving this summer, and she is 13 weeks pregnant. In order to be sure she gets the care she needs, she has planned her route from Florida to Seattle with appointments before she leaves and one when she gets to her new destination. In the middle of the summer, while visiting family in Indiana, she will also see a doctor.
“I’ve never PCSed pregnant,” she said. “I’ll be Indiana when I need a key appointment.”
Vaeth said her medical plans from state to state have been much easier since she switched to Tricare Standard.
“I don’t need referrals – nothing,” she said. “I thought I was going to have more trouble than I have had.”
She has four children now. Her husband moved to Seattle ahead of her to take his place on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Midgett. She stayed behind so that the kids can finish out the school year. The family will reunite in Seattle in the late summer.
“He may come back to four kids, he may come back to five,” she said with a laugh.
Vaeth is one of many military families in the midst of their moving plans. Ensuring medical care is available, whether planned or in an emergency, is essential.
Finding treatment in an emergency
An auto theft set off a chain of events that landed Christine England in the emergency room. In 2006, the England family was moving from Astoria, Ore. to Philadelphia.
It all started after an overnight camp in Northern California. During the night, their truck was stolen, leaving them with a car and a trailer that they needed the truck to pull.
“So we are stuck in a campsite with a 30-foot trailer and no way to pull it, hundreds of miles from where we lived and hundreds of miles from where we were heading,” she said.
Family members helped them get from the campground to her parents’ house in Sacramento. Once there, the stress of the situation hit full-force. England started trying to figure out how to manage the theft and insurance while still trying to get to the new unit on time. All of a sudden, she had trouble putting letters together to make words.
“I was sitting in my childhood bedroom researching what to do next and literally could not read the words on the screen. It freaked me out!” she said. “I went and got my husband and he knew right away something wasn’t right, so we went to the ER without a second thought as to if Tricare would pay for it.”
In the end, Tricare did cover the emergency room visit. England’s experience was caused by extreme stress and anxiety.
Their insurance company helped them take the next steps to getting a replacement truck. The police eventually found the truck four days later, completely stripped. They got the truck repaired and made it to their new unit on time.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
Betsy Babione’s very first move had her family scrambling to fined medical help. An unlikely source paved the way.
The Babione family left Islamorada, Fla. to head to their new home in Wilmington, N.C. They stopped to visit with family in Pittsburgh.
While visiting, their daughter, who was 15 months old at the time, developed a high fever. She ended up being admitted to the hospital in Pittsburgh, where they administered antibiotics.
After a few days, their daughter was on the mend, so they continued on to their new community. They got to their new house, where they were in that camping phase. The household goods had not arrived, they didn’t have internet, and they were sleeping on air mattresses.
Their daughter started to have a reaction to the antibiotics. She was covered in hives.
“We did not know a soul because we had just arrived to our new area,” she said.
Her husband remembered that a few weeks earlier, when they had been looking at the house, he had seen a sign celebrating the birth of twins at a neighbor’s house. They picked that house to go ask for help.
“I quickly ran to their house to not only introduce myself, but to ask it there were any urgent care offices in the area and to find out which emergency room was the best for kids,” she said.
As fate would have it, that new neighbor was a pediatric nurse. She steered them in the right direction that night and the families became great friends.
“We felt helpless and completely uneducated on what to do during a medical emergency during our PCS, but somehow we came across the perfect friend and neighbor to help us through.”
There will be medical help available no matter where you are
Chief Warrant Officer Jennifer Riedel was in the middle of the ocean when her daughter broke her arm. Eventually, the family made it to medical help.
“It was quite the ordeal,” she said. “Thankfully, I function well under immense pressure with the support of my Coast Guard family.”
Riedel and her two daughters were moving from Kodiak, Alaska to Virginia in 2013. They were on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry traveling from Haines, Alaska to Bellingham, Wash.
Her older daughter, Madalyn Males, who was 10 at the time, was in the playroom on the ferry. As she fell off a play mat, she used her wrist to break her fall. The break wasn’t bad enough for a medical evacuation off the ferry, as they were scheduled to arrive in Washington the next day.
“The ferry crew was fantastic and made a make-shift splint for her and supplied us with a bottle of Motrin and endless ice,” Riedel said. “We iced it all night, pulling into Bellingham bright and early the next morning.”
However, it wasn’t as easy as hopping off the ferry to get to the hospital. Not only did Riedel have her two daughters, but they also had the family dog. She had to find a way to get the dog somewhere safe before they could go to the hospital. She looked up a groomer in Bellingham, and called to explain their plight. The groomer took the dog for the day, and they headed on to the hospital.
As luck would have it, the intake nurse had a son in the Coast Guard who was stationed where they were headed in Virginia. Madalyn got an X-ray that confirmed that her arm was broken. The medical staff there put her arm in a splint and recommended an orthopedic appointment within a few days, which is not so easy when you are trying to get across the country.
“I explained that we were merely passing through and we’d have to figure something out. Turns out they won’t cast it immediately due to swelling,” Riedel said. “So off we went to pick up the dog and then drove straight through to Boise, Idaho.”
They stayed there for a few days to let the girls rest and recuperate from the ordeal. The original plan had them traveling to Salt Lake City to surprised Riedel’s mom, who lives there.
They continued on to Utah, where Riedel’s mom called a friend who works at a hospital. The hospital was able to see Madalyn within a few days. Riedel’s husband, who was stationed in Virginia at the time, was able to meet them in Utah.
While waiting for the appointment, Riedel called her previous primary care doctor back in Alaska because they were still on Tricare Prime Remote. The old doctor called the Utah hospital and the referral was processed. When they arrived at the Utah hospital, they were ready to go.
“After new x-rays and a waterproof cast, we were on our way – and the summer wasn’t ruined by a pesky cast,” Jennifer said.
Riedel said that finding medical contacts along the way was what made their experience go relatively smoothly. The help from her clinic in Alaska, paired with the access to the hospital in Utah, plus some forward planning were imperative.
“Having been in service for so long, I knew the ER was the best route to go and just happened to have lucky connections in Salt Lake City to get her casted. I also had connections ready to cast her in Memphis, Tennessee if the Salt Lake City thing didn’t pan out,” Riedel said. “Luckily it did. Networking is the key.”
Accessing Tricare while away from home
Regardless of where you are or your medical needs, Tricare is available to help, said Cmdr. Paul Fawcett, chief of medical administration for Health, Safety and Work-Life.
“The most important thing we can tell family members is: If you need care and don’t know what to do, call Tricare and ask for guidance,” Fawcett said. “If it’s an emergency, do not delay care, go to the ER.”
Fawcett offered the following tips and advice for responding to medical emergencies during a move. No one can predict what will happen, and there is no one most common issue.
“Medical circumstances vary widely from individual to individual and family to family,” said Fawcett.
Care in the middle of the move
- If it is an emergency, go to the emergency room or call 911. These would be issues that are a threat to life, limb or eyesight.
- If it is not an emergency, go to an urgent care center. These would be for ailments like ear infections, strep throat, or minor injuries or illnesses. If you have not used your two unreferred urgent care visits (per year, per person), then that is an option. Find Tricare network urgent care centers by searching on Tricare.mil or calling 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273). You can get a referral at that same number if you have already used your two unreferred visits.
- Call your last unit for help. The active duty member can call the duty corpsman at the last unit for advice. Also, active duty members should report all treatment received to their servicing clinic or corpsman as soon as is practical, Fawcett said.
- Look for the nearest Military Treatment Facility. This might be a good option because you should not receive a bill for care. The facility can also help you find low-cost lodging if you have to stay overnight, Fawcett said.
Be prepared before you move
- Your ID card is your proof of Tricare eligibility. Make sure the whole family’s cards are up to date through the end of the PCS process.
- Check your DEERS enrollment, particularly newborns. (If your ID is current, you are enrolled in DEERS.)
- For those enrolled in Tricare Prime, print your Tricare card. (Those on Standard do not have a card).
- Fill all prescriptions for the whole family at least 30 days before the move.
- Put together a travel medical kit. Include common over the counter medications such as pain reliever and cold medications, and basic first aid supplies such as bandages and tape.
- Keep the names and contact information for all the primary care providers for each person in the family. You may need medical information quickly, and that may be the best way to get it.
How did you find medical care during a move? Tell your story in the comments section below.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.