Transformed Battlefield Medical Care Saves Lives
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2006 The military health system has revolutionized battlefield medical care in the past four years, reducing fatalities and raising the quality of care to all-time high levels, two Defense Department officials said here today.
Injured servicemembers are now more quickly transported from the battlefield to medical facilities where they can receive advanced care, and more of them are surviving because of it, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said at the State of the Military Health System 2006 Annual Conference.
"You have produced the lowest loss among wounded that this country has ever seen," Chu said to the audience of military health care professionals.
Equally important, servicemembers with injuries that 10 years ago would have excluded them from military service are being rehabilitated and returned to the fight, Chu said.
The success of the military health system with combat injuries can be attributed to increased capability and equipment of medical units on the front lines, but also to the quality of care given by the medics en route as a servicemember is transferred, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of TRICARE Management Activity, said at the conference.
"Your expert professionalism and your compassion are powerful ingredients in helping to get our troops back to duty and assisting them in any way," Winkenwerder said to the audience.
Servicemembers also are better prepared before they go into a combat zone, Winkenwerder said. They have better knowledge of fitness and environmental awareness, and they have a more comprehensive medical team behind them that is prepared for any need that may arise, he said. The knowledge of having this medical support behind them gives servicemembers more confidence, which is essential to a successful military, he said.
"It's the confidence of the warrior that he or she has the best medical support right behind them," he said. "This confidence is higher than ever."
Not only are servicemembers better cared for while fighting on the battlefield, they are also better covered after they return, Winkenwerder said. The military health care community has employed new initiatives to better recognize and treat post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
Military members returning from deployment now have to go through a second health assessment to look for psychological problems, he said, and family members are being taught about signs and symptoms to look for, and where to go for help.
The military health care community also demonstrated its capability in its response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan, Chu said. "The effort to which you contributed changed the face of the United States in those crucial areas of the world," he said.
Many changes are ahead for the military health care community, but DoD is committed to building upon the strong foundation of quality care and high standards that has been established since the war on terror began, Winkenwerder said.
"The military medical forces of the United States have emerged from the last four years of engagement around the world and in your own backyard with a reputation for excellence not witnessed before," he said. "There is a future medical force that we all have a responsibility in shaping and that I know everyone has an interest in ensuring is the best, the most highly trained, and the most effective in the nation."