Navy and Marine Corps commanders supervising personnel in Japan say at least 24 American service members, civilian Defense Department employees, or military dependents seeking medical care have been turned away from Japanese hospitals in the previous two years, resulting in four deaths. Paramedics spent 35 minutes seeking a facility to admit a 7-year-old with a severe brain injury, who died. Investigations show that U.S. military facilities in Japan lack trauma centers and cannot handle serious situations.
Challenges in Emergency Medical Care in Japan Highlighted Amidst Admiral’s Call for Improvements
Admiral John Aquilino has ordered U.S. Forces Japan to improve emergency medical treatment, but Japan has systemic challenges. Japan’s emergency medicine specialization developed in 2010, and 24/7 ER doctors are scarce. In the absence of a specialist, a physician from another discipline may treat patients, denying or diverting them.
Japanese citizens and U.S. personnel are affected. Japan denied emergency services to approximately 8,000 individuals in December 2022 and 16,000 in January 2023.
A 7-year-old Marine’s daughter fell from an escalator and suffered a severe brain injury, illustrating the challenges. The girl was delayed for 35 minutes while ambulance technicians searched for a hospital.
Concerns Over Medical Treatment in Japan Prompt Congressional Inquiries and Reforms
In recent years, Japanese military, family, and civilian Defense Department employees have worried about medical treatment. Concerns and anger followed the Defense Health Agency’s announcement to treat civilian U.S. employees as space permits. Japan has 110,000 personnel and family members, and efforts are underway to improve medical services and access to care.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Frank Pallone have asked for military medical facility staffing adjustments. These initiatives may be too late for Japanese families who lost loved ones owing to emergency medical delays and denials. To address persistent medical issues in Japan, the Defense Health Agency and military services are undertaking examinations and will complete a comprehensive study later this quarter.