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US Military Personnel ‘Routinely Denied Access’ to Emergency Care in Japan

A recent US military investigation has found that active-duty personnel and their families stationed in Japan are being “routinely denied access” to emergency medical care, sometimes resulting in preventable deaths.

US Navy and Marine Corps leaders responsible for Japan-based American soldiers revealed that at least 24 US service members, civilian defense employees, and military dependents had been turned away from Japanese hospitals in the past two years.

Four of them died because of the lack of medical care, including the 7-year-old daughter of a US Marine deployed in Okinawa.

The child, who suffered a serious head injury after falling on an Okinawa mall escalator, was denied by two hospitals and needed to wait for 30 minutes before finally receiving medical attention.

A Japan-based Pentagon employee also died after suffering a heart attack and being denied care by 10 hospitals. He succumbed shortly before an 11th facility had agreed to accept him.

Another case involved a US Marine who was electrocuted on a flight line. The soldier was reportedly denied care by nine hospitals and only received proper medical attention when US Forces Japan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened.


The investigation has found that latency in getting to an operating room was a “likely contributor” to the deaths of some US military personnel and their families in Japan.

Unlike in the US where law guarantees necessary care for any patient who arrives at an emergency room, Tokyo does not impose such a requirement, meaning hospitals can routinely turn away patients at their discretion.

Additionally, the country does not have enough emergency physicians to cover emergency rooms around the clock, so patients are sometimes denied care or diverted.

According to Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. John Aquilino, US military officials in Japan have been instructed to assess and provide planning estimates to improve emergency care access for American servicemembers there.

The establishment of a new 911 system in Japan with similar geolocation capabilities as the US system is also highly recommended.

Furthermore, several Marine Corps leaders suggested hiring advanced life support paramedics, such as those found at other American military installations.

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