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Troop Protection Is New DoD Health Official's Top Job

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2002 – As the war against global terrorism continues, DoD is putting added emphasis on service members' health and medical needs before, during and after deployments.

DoD's force health protection program "focuses on the full continuum of care for our service members from the time they are brought into the service until the time they retire or leave the service," said Ellen P. Embrey, chief of the recently established Deployment Health Support Directorate.

Embrey, also the deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, noted the importance of keying on troops' health protection needs as they serve worldwide in the anti-terrorism war.

"That's the core of our mission. We need to make sure they are protected before they go, when they're there, and when they return," she emphasized.

Embrey said the services use many systems to track troops' health needs in the field. Setting up and maintaining proper medical records can be hard, however, when there are no permanent-hospital computer databases and records offices "just down the hall," she said.

Leveraging available technology, hand-held computers are being tested for field medical record keeping, "but we still have a lot of work to do there," Embrey said.

Meanwhile, she noted, "we're (telling) the services to do the best they possibly can to ensure that we maintain good records on the forces that are deployed."

Embrey noted service members should understand that deployment is inherently stressful. That means it's essential they complete pre-deployment health assessments truthfully. The assessments ask service members whether they are fit and ready to deploy and whether they have known health or medical vulnerabilities, she said.

When troops arrive in the field "we will be monitoring their health as closely as we possibly can to be sure that they are able to complete their mission," Embrey said.

DoD also evaluates medical intelligence data being gathered around the world to assess the environmental and infectious disease risks to deployed troops, she said. That information helps to better prepare deployable forces for the areas where they are going, such as preventive medicine education for their specific deployment locales, she said.

Troops undergo a post-deployment health assessment upon return to garrison, she noted.

"We are going to be focusing very strongly on those assessments to ensure that we do the necessary follow-up if they believe they have a health-related problem associated with that deployment," she explained, to include deployments of years past.

For example, Embrey said, her organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs work together to continue focusing on the concerns of service members who've experienced health issues since their Gulf War service.

DoD is scientifically evaluating and correlating the illnesses that surface, she said, while trying to match them to service members' Gulf War experiences.

Deployments pose "many unknown factors," Embrey noted, adding to the difficulty of obtaining accurate information needed to help Gulf War veterans find the cause of their illnesses.

"It's important that everyone understand that, regardless of the cause, if a person is having a problem, we want to take care of them," Embrey emphasized. "We are truly committed to focusing on the health and well-being of our deployable forces."

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