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Service Medical Leaders Share Common Voice on TRICARE

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 1998 – They wear the uniforms of their respective service branches. But the nation's three military surgeons general share a common vision for TRICARE.

The military's top surgeons voiced their views and concerns about DoD's managed health care plan when they addressed delegates at the annual TRICARE conference here Feb. 9.

"Working together is clearly the only way we are going to be successful," Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck told the tri-service audience of some 1,400 medics. And while he lauded the shared vision of DoD health care leadership, Blanck said the focus now "is shifting from leadership putting TRICARE together to the medical community in the field carrying it out."

Making sure the military stays mission-ready is military medicine's top requirement, Blanck said. "Readiness is first and foremost what we are about," he said. For military medicine, he said, "readiness is keeping service members ready to do their jobs and doing things to keep them healthy." Blanck listed force protection, immunizations and preventive medicine as key ingredients to a fit and healthy fighting force.

Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Harold Koenig said the TRICARE benefit must be delivered uniformly across the system so that beneficiaries can expect and receive the same level of health care anywhere. Koenig said military health care beneficiaries serving with geographically separated units and overseas are just as important as those living near major medical centers in the United States and deserve the same level and quality of care. And he urged military health care professionals to "serve as ambassadors to TRICARE."

As ambassadors, military medics must look at health care delivery from the patients' perspective," Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Charles Roadman said. He called for "passionate dedication" to ensure world-class quality health care that delivers the best services to patients at the best value for DoD. "Anything short of that will fall short of the trust" people traditionally have placed in military health care, he said.

The Joint Staff's senior logistics officer confirmed the three physicians' stance on force readiness. Health and fitness and medical support "are absolutely critical to successful warfare," Army Lt. Gen. John Cusick said. Cusick challenged the medical community to ask itself tough questions about health care delivery. "Are our war fighters protected? Are we taking care of families? Are we keeping our promises to veterans?" he challenged the medics to consider. "War starts in a hurry," he said. "Are you ready?"

From the onset of TRICARE, defense health care leaders have underscored the plan's relationship with military readiness -- ensuring health care services at home don't disappear when the medics deploy with the war fighters. What the leaders were saying here Feb. 9 was, "The system's working as designed, but we can do it better."

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