Services Strive to Extend Expertise Across Health Care
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 Troops deployed to Afghanistan are receiving the best trauma care in the world, and the services are determined to continue that level of expertise as service members return home, the military’s top health professionals told a Senate panel today.
The surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force testified about the status of military health care before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.
Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army’s surgeon general and former chief of its nurse corps, said Army health professionals have a proud history of standing side by side with troops on the battlefield since the nation’s beginning.
Those skills have been well-honed in the past decade of war, Horoho and her Navy and Air Force counterparts said.
“It cannot be overstated that the best trauma care in the world resides in Kandahar,” Horoho said, noting that the NATO hospital complex in Afghanistan’s southern region houses the best military trauma professionals from the 50-nation coalition.
The services strive to continue that top level of care as troops leave the war theater, from hospitals and rehabilitation centers, to when they return home, the surgeons general said. As the United States draws down from Afghanistan, they said, the services need not only to retain those battlefield skills, but also to transition more toward wellness and promotion of overall health.
“Our mission is larger than wartime medicine,” Horoho said.
Vice Adm. (Dr.) Matthew L. Nathan, the Navy’s surgeon general, agreed. “They need to heal in mind, body and spirit,” he said of warfighters.
To that end, the Navy has seen success with its program to help redeployed Marines deal with post-traumatic stress, binge drinking, sleep disorders and other problems, Nathan said.
Each of the surgeons general said the proposed fiscal 2013 budget would meet their service’s health system needs, and agreed with Nathan that they must strive to innovate, operate more jointly, engage with private sector providers, and partner with civilian health departments and agencies, such as the Veterans Affairs Department.
“Interoperability creates systemwide synergies,” Nathan said, and allows for better care at lower cost.
The surgeons general defended the Defense Department’s budget proposal to increase TRICARE enrollment fees on a tiered basis for military retirees as being necessary to bringing down rapidly rising health care costs.
The department’s health care costs rose from $19 billion in 2001 to an expected $51 billion this year, Nathan said. And while the costs have grown, retirees still are paying the same $400 to $500 annual fee they’ve paid for TRICARE since the health plan’s inception in the mid-1990s, while new programs like TRICARE for Life have driven up costs, he said.
“This is an effort to try to find a fair increase in the participation of beneficiaries, in an effort to make it commensurate to the benefits they’ve received in the last few years,” he said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Charles B. Green acknowledged that military retiree groups have been vocal about opposing the increase. But he added that he will be retiring soon and he supports the higher fees.
“There is a mismatch now with inflation,” he said. “We’ve been giving cost-of-living increases to retirement, but not increasing any of the out-of-pocket costs.”
Horoho, Nathan and Green said they also are looking for redundancies and other cost savings in programs to affect future budgets.