Pentagon Silent on Changes it Made to Databases That Obscure Pandemic Impact

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Health statistics of the U.S. military have been repeatedly changed over the past 15 months in a way that makes it difficult to gauge the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the health of military service members.

In order to measure the impact, data from during the pandemic would be compared with data from before the pandemic. Such a comparison has been undermined, however, by changes to the numbers for pre-pandemic years, as apparent from data published by and leaked from the Military Health System.

Specifically, in the data released and accessed since mid-2021, millions of additional ambulatory visits have been added to the numbers for years 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment on the changes.

The Pentagon stores the health data of military personnel in a database called the Defense Medical Surveillance System (DMSS). Every year, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch releases summary statistical reports from the health data, usually in the April or May issue of its Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR).

Similar statistical reports can also be queried in real time from the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED), which is based on an anonymized subset of DMSS data.

The Pentagon has stated that the DMED health data was affected by a technical glitch after it was migrated to a new database in August 2021. However, that doesn’t answer the question of the changes that occurred before the migration and further changes appeared after the glitch was fixed.

The MSMR reports include comparison data for two prior odd or even years. For example, the May 2019 issue included numbers for hospitalizations and ambulatory visits of active-duty armed forces personnel in years 2018, 2016, and 2014. By the same token, the May 2020 issue included numbers for 2019, 2017, and 2015.

The data doesn’t include some health care encounters, such as those provided by field medics, the MSMR reports say.

By Petr Svab

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