Article originally published in The Atlantic.
The military health-care system serves 2 million children, but there are only a handful of full-time pediatric social workers across the Defense Department’s sprawling network of hospitals. In the civilian world, this kind of staffing is “unimaginable.”
When your child is hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, the rest of the world ceases to exist. At least until reality begins to creep back in.
There’s paperwork to be signed, insurance companies to be called, childcare arrangements to be made for the sick child’s siblings, and bosses who must be briefed.
Laura Bingham experienced all this firsthand last year when her 4-year-old son, Dalton, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that attacks the blood and bone marrow. For weeks, Dalton hadn’t been feeling well. He had night sweats. He wasn’t acting like himself. But doctors couldn’t find a problem. Then came the petechiae, an alarming splattering of blood spots on his face and eyes.
“Two days later, we had an official diagnosis,” Bingham told me. “It was devastating.”
“Megan is there from the very beginning, so immediately there is a cheerful face. She has access to wonderful resources. Any time we’re faced with an obstacle, she goes above and beyond to take care of it,” Bingham said. “Megan’s role is vital.”
And yet if Dalton, whose father is in the Navy, had been getting treatment at a military facility, it’s possible that the Binghams wouldn’t have had someone like Megan in their lives at all. Tufts alone has six full-time pediatric social workers. According to numbers provided by the Defense Department, there are only 7 in the entire military hospital system—a network of more than 50 hospitals serving nearly 2 million children. (The Defense Department told me there are 15 full-time pediatric social workers at Navy, Army, and Air Force hospitals, with more than half of them based in Japan, not the United States.) The military health system has an annual budget of $50 billion, so why does it spend so little on full-time pediatric social workers for hospitalized babies and children?
Read the rest of the article here in The Atlantic.