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Chu Challenges Medical Pros to Think About Military Medicine's Future

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2003 – Defense Department leaders need to think and act differently when determining how transformation will affect military medicine, David S.C. Chu told the 2003 National TRICARE Conference audience here Jan. 27.

Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, urged more than 3,000 military and civilian health care professionals to think not just about immediate issues and concerns, but also 2004's. The audience came together to discuss TRICARE programs, policies and initiatives, receive the latest information on the next generation of TRICARE contracts and to highlight health care achievements for the previous year.

"When we gather together again in 12 months, what do you think we will have accomplished?" he asked. "What will the world look like, and will the role of military medicine be changed in that world -- incrementally, dramatically or not at all?"

When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talks about transforming DoD, Chu said, he's asking leaders to "reshape our military capabilities for this century. That means changing our business practices, processes, organizations and our culture for 'sustained advantage' against enemies of this country."

Transformation isn't a silver bullet or something that should be done to the entire force at once, Chu noted. "It will not be accomplished in a short period of time, and it's not toward some fixed, unchanging end," he said. "It's about people and how we rethink our approach to the new threats of this century.

"Transformation means looking at the new environment in which the military health system operates and responding to it," Chu said. He quickly added that the system responded successfully during the past year.

"One of the most feared asymmetrical threats that we've confronted in the past year is biological warfare," Chu pointed out. He said the Bush administration and DoD have acted decisively to begin to remove the threats of anthrax and smallpox against the armed forces and American public.

"That happened in large measure because there was a cadre of biowarfare defense experts in this country, mostly resident in the military health system," he said.

However, he said, the challenges are: "Are we appropriately organized to make rapid changes? Do we have the right resources to tackle the other threats that we face?" Chu said he's confident DoD would handle any threats "as directly and decisively as we have with our anthrax and smallpox vaccination decisions."

Military medicine has enjoyed decades of innovation and improvements in readiness and operational concepts, according to Chu. "The introduction of lighter and more agile medical forces, as well as critical care transport, is changing doctrine," he said. A challenge now, he added, is to ensure the entire DoD leadership understands those doctrinal changes.

Turning his attention to TRICARE, Chu said it and military medicine are among the more integrated programs in DoD and serve as a model for other organizations.

TRICARE reached several significant milestones in 2002, including the start of TRICARE for Life and the new generation of TRICARE contracts, Chu noted. But, he emphasized there's more to be done. "This year's work is essential," he noted, "and success in the 2004 transition will be based on the careful planning and execution of many activities this year."

Chu told the gathering that DoD must focus on increased collaboration and communication across the federal government, such as the collaborative initiatives between DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said he and Deputy VA Secretary Leo S. Mackay Jr. are overseeing the development of a joint DoD-VA strategic plan that would be a map to develop "solid goals and performance measures and serve to further institutionalize our relationship."

The relationship, he said, includes overseeing the Joint Health Executive Council and the newly established Benefits Executive Council. The councils' goals are to establish a single discounted rate for DoD and VA medical services, work out ways to send veterans' service health records to VA electronically, and create a procurement-sharing agreement.

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