BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Frustrated with the near-impossible task of getting an appointment at the local dental clinic and few options on the economy, vexed Baumholder spouses blasted away during a town hall meeting where there were no easy answers.

The session launched off with a complaint by a Baumholder resident that was read before a sympathetic audience.

“I think the dental office in Baumholder is crazy. I have been trying to get my daughters into the dental clinic since March of 2007. I still have been unsuccessful,” stated the written complaint submitted before Wednesday’s meeting.

Critics concurred and assailed the clinic for the indifference they said seems to pervade the dental office.

“The dental clinic has a reputation of being coldhearted,” said Erica McKeel, an Army spouse.

Col. Walter F. Rongey, the clinic’s commander, said his hands are tied when it comes to providing care to dependents. Policy dictates that it’s on a space-available basis, and there is very little space, he said.

“That’s what the law says,” Rongey said. “We still see family members, but we should not be viewed as their dental plan.”

Residents were not satisfied, and the dissatisfaction intensified when ideas for improving the situation were offered up and then dismissed.

Tricare — the military’s health care organization — is building a network of German national doctors to participate in a new program that allows dependents to receive dental care on the economy without having to pay the bill up front. The program was launched to ease the financial burden on families, particularly from the junior enlisted ranks.

The problem in Baumholder is that just one German dentist, in nearby Idar-Oberstein, is signed on to participate in the program.

While the new Tricare program gets off the ground, residents said, the Baumholder dental clinic needs to be more creative and flexible in meeting the needs of the community.

For instance, numerous people said establishing a waiting list could help ease some of the frustrations. Now, getting an appointment is a daily crapshoot that requires families to make repeated phone calls to the clinic.

A chorus of spouses in the audience wanted to know: Why not start a waiting list?

“The problem with a waiting list is you need someone to manage it,” Rongey said. “I don’t have the personnel to manage a waiting list.”

Rongey continued: “We tried waiting lists (before), and it doesn’t work.”

“Try again,” one audience member called out.

Another suggestion: Establish a system in which junior enlisted families get first preference when spaces become available at the clinic. Such a system would protect lower-earning Army families from having to pay up front for care.

“I grew up in an enlisted family and we couldn’t have (afforded it),” said McKeel, the wife of an Army captain. “These are the families that need the few slots available.”

Rongey said Army policy doesn’t include any provisions for such allowances.

In the meantime, the long-term solution appears to be adding more preferred German doctors to the Tricare plan.

Col. Gary C. Martin, director of the Tricare dental program in Washington, said on Thursday that, overall, doctors have been receptive to the initiative.

“This is a new concept,” Martin said. “We’re very pleased. We have over 50 preferred dentists in Germany alone. It’s been quite a success. This is a big step forward.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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