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DoD Applies Medical Lessons Learned

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 1997 – Service members will undergo a comprehensive health screening to determine their medical condition before they deploy, DoD officials said.

Vice Adm. Dennis C. Blair, director of the Joint Staff, recently pointed out several successes of force medical protection and surveillance policies. Applying lessons learned from past deployments, he said, policy charges ensure service members are protected in future missions.

Blair likened the old version of medical protection to that in the movie "M.A.S.H." -- "Soldiers go out, get shot, come back, get patched up, we put them back into play."

The new vision of force medical protection follows a cycle which begins when recruits enter the service, he said. Education and immunizations prepare service members before they are deployed.

As part of new health surveillance initiatives, medical activities for Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia included comprehensive health screenings, Blair said. This included collection and storage of serum samples from deploying service members and extensive education to highlight health risks and preventive measures.

"We've done a much more thorough job so we have a good baseline of what [service members] were like when they went into the theater," Blair said.

In addition, environmental analyses were done prior to the Bosnia deployment. "We're understanding a lot more about these areas of the world we're deploying to that have diseases you and I can't even pronounce, much less spell, and we have to do operations there," Blair said.

In the deployment and operations cycle, forward-deployed teams and laboratories collected soil and air samples and got on-the-spot results. He said mental health teams monitored stress levels through surveys and provided individual counseling as needed.

The cycle ends after the deployment ends, when service members go through another health screening and serum-sample procedure to compare with those done before deployment. "Results have been good," Blair said. Low rates of disease and non-battle injuries in Bosnia have set records in terms of success, he said.

The nonbattle injury rate was 76 cases per 1,000 service members deployed to Bosnia per year, including cases of disease. Operations Desert Shield and Storm produced 153 cases per 1,000 per year and Vietnam, 419 cases per 1,000 per year.

Blair said much has been applied from past deployments, but the learning curve isn't closed.

"Each time we're plowing the lessons back in, making it better and taking a health care approach," Blair said.

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