New Forms Document Radiation Exposure for U.S. Military Personnel, Families in Japan During Disaster

by U.S. Medicine

May 20, 2011

WASHINGTON—Military personnel and dependents who were in radiation-exposed areas in Japan during the massive earthquake, tsunami and partial nuclear reactor meltdown are being asked to fill out forms available at MTFs to document their presence in those areas. The forms will be placed in the patients’ medical records, in case any future health issues arise.

radiation-scrub.jpgHealth-care providers are also being provided with information on how to counsel patients who were in Japan during that time period and have health concerns.

“Presently there is no reason for anyone who is either in an area of contamination in Japan or who has left Japan and come back to the United States … to seek medical care, because there is no medical condition that they have,” Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Adam Robinson Jr. said in a video prepared a few weeks after the earthquake for Navy personnel and families. “There is nuclear contamination—very low levels, but they have it nonetheless—which they need to make sure they care for.”

Robinson suggested then, that families leaving the area ensure that they, their families and their pets were washed off, that clothes worn in Japan were cleaned and that luggage and boxes were wiped down.

He also asked that the personnel and families “make sure to visit your military-treatment facility and fill out the radiation documentation form that we are now supplying to all MTFs around the world, so that we can document who was in the affected area.”

How Health Providers Should Address Issue

In addition, Jonathan Woodson, MD, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, released guidance to health-care providers who may be seeing patients concerned about health effects from radiation exposure. Some 40,000 U.S. military personnel, 43,000 dependents and 5,000 DOD civilian employees were in Japan during the disaster.

Woodson wrote that radiation- monitoring results at U.S. military bases in Japan, as of March 30, “have shown only very small amounts of radiation related to the event, and negligible radiation exposure for individuals living and working outside of a 50-mile radius from the Fukushima power plant.”

radiation-tent.jpgWhile there were no indications that any personnel in the vicinity of the U.S. military installations in Japan had experienced radiation exposures that would pose a risk for acute or long- term illness, according to Woodson, returning military personnel and dependents may have “perceptions that they have experienced significant exposure to radiation or that they may be at increased risk of illness.”

These concerns, he stated, “should be addressed, and factual information should be provided to permit patients to understand the nature of the events they have experienced and their impact on current and future health.”

When beneficiaries from Japan present in clinics, Woodson directed providers to:

“Be attentive, compassionate, and understanding; actively listen to them; seek any clarifications necessary to ensure you fully understand what those concerns are. Listen to any presenting complaints that may require diagnosis or treatment so that you can clearly understand them and can respond to them appropriately—clinically and through appropriate risk communication.”

“Some patients may have completed and brought with them a NAVMED 6470, a Radiation Screening and Risk Assessment Form distributed by the Navy. If so, review and ask clarifying questions, complete the form, provide any additional medical follow-up as may be required and place a copy in the patient’s medical record.”

Low-level Radiation Found

The U.S. military deployed assets and personnel to help with humanitarian assistance in and around the country after the March 11 disaster but found that radiation risks complicated an already challenging situation.

On March 14 the U.S. 7th Fleet announced that low levels of radioactivity were found on 17 air crew members on one of its ships participating in the humanitarian mission. While the U.S. 7th Fleet described the radiation exposure as “less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun,” it also stated that it would be temporarily moving its fleet out of the area of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

In a March 18 news conference, Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, stated that resources were in place to monitor the radiation and to disseminate information.

“We are flying airborne systems on the outside of our helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes in order to monitor activity in the area,” he said. “And again, where we encounter, you know, radiological effects, we report those broadly, both within our own forces and to the Japanese. As you suggest, there are teams on the ground that have monitoring equipment. We have individuals that are carrying personal dosimetry, and our ships are equipped with the ability to gauge any activity that they encounter as well.”

Willard also told reporters that, while a 50-mile exclusion zone for US Forces had been established around the damaged reactor, when necessary, the U.S. military would have to conduct operations inside that radius.

Evacuation Offered to Families

As a precaution related to the Fukushima nuclear plant incident and the disasters unfolding in the country, the U.S. government authorized a voluntary evacuation of eligible family members of DoD personnel from a number of bases.

Willard said in a March 17 news briefing that planning figures for an overall evacuation of U.S. citizens in the greater Tokyo area was about 87,300 personnel—a figure that includes eligible DOD dependents—but that relatively few family members appeared to be interested in leaving. The Army later reported that about 2,100 military family members had taken advantage of the evacuation offer.

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