Dueling memos complicate enforcement of testing regulations
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Some South Korean employees — including those who regularly handle food — haven’t been tested on base for tuberculosis, a disease that occurs about 30 times more in South Korea than in the United States.
Wording of U.S. Forces Korea health regulations reportedly has caused confusion about whether employees paid through nonappropriated funds, including Army and Air Force Exchange Service food handlers, must get TB-test X-rays.
Nonappropriated-funds employees are those whose pay does not come from tax dollars, such as Morale, Welfare and Recreation employees.
AAFES food handlers haven’t received regular physicals or tuberculosis exams since last June, said Master Sgt. Howard Smith, AAFES spokesman.
The 335 Korean nationals who work for Dragon Hill Lodge haven’t been tested for TB for about 15 years, said Rich Gorman, general manager. About 80 of those employees work with food, he said.
AAFES — which manages the post exchange, food courts and other businesses on post — followed a June memo from the 18th Medical Command stating that South Korean nonappropriated-fund employees are exempt from medical exams and chest X-rays, Smith said.
The deputy assistant chief of staff for civilian personnel rescinded that memo in August, saying that pre-employment medical clearance and triennial chest X-rays are required.
But AAFES received an October memo from that same official, Smith said, stating that the June memo should be disregarded.
Smith said AAFES now is scheduling health screenings for its 353 food-handling employees in South Korea.
Gorman and Smith said their organizations followed Army regulations, which required no such testing. South Korean national employees with AAFES, MWR and the Dragon Hill Lodge should have a chest X-ray, said Lt. Col. Lee Hee-choon, chief of clinical preventive medicine for 18th Medical Command.
But a heavy workload at the Occupational Health Clinic, the office responsible for doing the Area II tests, has precluded active enforcement of the regulation, Lee said. He couldn’t say whether every South Korean MWR employee has an updated X-ray on file.
The Civilian Personnel Office at Yongsan does the hiring for Area II MWR employees, said Diana Fredlund, MWR spokeswoman.
Andrew Yi, of the Civilian Personnel Office section that deals with Yongsan-area South Korean MWR employees, said his office schedules physicals only for brand-new employees.
When an employee is due for an X-ray, his office sends a notice to the commander of that employee’s organization, Yi said. The letter is to be forwarded to the worker’s supervisor, Fredlund said.
MWR does ensure that TB testing “is taken care of on a regular basis as needed,” she said.
The Dragon Hill used to test every employee, Gorman said, but the tests rarely identified people with communicable diseases.
He said the requirement was dropped because the Dragon Hill reports directly to the Army, which does not require testing. The Dragon Hill still falls under USFK regulations, but conflicting memorandums never made the TB testing policy clear, Gorman said.
“Health is obviously a critical issue that I wouldn’t minimize,” he said. “I also don’t think there is a substantial risk at this point. We will comply with whatever we are asked to do.”
A female South Korean national who works in the administration office contracted TB about three years ago, Gorman said, adding that the worker received treatment and Dragon Hill reported the case to the 18th Medical Command.
In the 4½ years he has worked there, he said, no other TB cases have occurred. If a definitive policy is issued on TB testing, “we’d start it tomorrow,” Gorman said. “I don’t know if reasonable minds have agreed on this.”