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DoD Health Affairs Nominee to Bring Patient’s Perspective to Job

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 – President Bush’s nominee to be the Defense Department’s next top health care official promised the Senate Armed Services Committee here yesterday that he’d bring a patient’s perspective to the job if confirmed.

At his confirmation hearing, Dr. S. Ward Casscells III told senators he’d experienced DoD health care firsthand as an Army Reserve colonel in Iraq and later was frustrated by “the bureaucracy that has been in the news lately” upon his return.

“If it's frustrating for a colonel, you can imagine how frustrating it is for a sergeant or corporal,” he said, “particularly if they've had a head injury or their family are 1,000 miles away and can't be advocates for them. So, … we've got to fix that and make it fair and fast.”

Casscells suffered an elbow injury in Iraq when the Humvee he was riding in swerved to avoid an improvised-explosive-device tripwire. The injury became infected, and he was treated at the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

“I wasn't badly injured,” he said. “It was a small injury, but it was just enough to get me into the system as a patient.”

Casscells, who is a distinguished professor and vice president of biotechnology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute, said his experience gave him “an interesting insight” into the dedication of the military’s medical personnel.

“As the major was draining my elbow, an Army captain, who is a nurse, came in and said, ‘Heads up everybody. We've got three birds coming in with about six Iraqi victims, bad IEDs. Everybody who hasn't given blood lately, roll up your sleeves.’ … And then she caught sight of me and said to the major, "What's that colonel doing here? Get him out in the hall. I need that bed!"

Casscells said he would continue -- and accelerate, if possible -- efforts by current Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. to implement electronic medical records and other improvements to efficiency and accountability. He cited his own experience in acknowledging that the current system needs attention.

“I do know that when I was in Iraq, it amused me to look up my record on Army Knowledge Online -- one of our Web sites -- and to find that my deployment status was ‘amber,’ which means I was not fit to be deployed, and yet there I was,” he said. “So clearly there are issues like that.”

The DoD health affairs nominee said that if confirmed, he’ll need time to assess the findings of various task forces and hearings investigating issues related to military health care and its bureaucracy, but he added it’s clear to him the military is taking these matters “very seriously.”

“It sounds like there’s a lot of support for improving things – to take a system which is very good and make it absolutely superb,” he said.

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Dr. S. Ward Casscells III

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