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Commander Views Health Care From Readiness Perspective

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., June 30, 1999 – As an individual Marine, Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley has always liked the health care he's received from military medics and he counts those medics among his heroes.

But as a military leader, he hasn't been as pleased overall with the military health care system -- during Desert Storm, for example. Medical evacuations weren't always as efficient as they could have been, he said, and family members left behind by deployed Marines weren't guaranteed uninterrupted health care. "These are important readiness issues," Stanley said.

Stanley hopes TRICARE, the DoD managed health plan, will fix those kinds of problems and improve military health care overall. But for the plan to succeed, he said, it must become simpler -- something TRICARE officials are working on now -- and commanders must back the health plan 100 percent.

"Commanders and what they do are the catalysts behind opening doors" to better health care, said Stanley, commander of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center here. "If leadership isn't behind TRICARE, it isn't going to happen.

"The bottom line is taking care of troops," he said. "Young people don't think about things like this, but the leadership knows from experience. I've seen too many deployments that don't go well because people get hurt or sick and have to come back. But when you have people better informed, you help them take care of themselves."

Poor communication, for instance, is behind some Marines' resistance to receiving the anthrax vaccinations, Stanley said. Since Defense Secretary William S. Cohen directed all service members to receive the shots as protection against the deadly biological agent, negative information about the anthrax vaccine has been widespread, particularly on the Internet. Several Marines under Stanley's command have refused the shots and subsequently face disciplinary action.

"Folks use selective information from the Internet to decide what's right or wrong for them," he said. It's up to commanders and supervisors to make sure they get accurate information, he said.

He's also concerned that family members and retirees get good information about their health care options. "We need to relate better to all beneficiaries and make them knowledgeable about health care," he said.

Stanley said the new emphasis on healthy life styles is having a good effect. "I think people are learning," he said. "I went out for a unit run yesterday and we spent 25 minutes stretching." He's pleased the word's out about injury-preventing warm ups. Messages about smoking should be so effective, he said wistfully -- he's mystified why so many young Marines still smoke. "You see them smoking in their cars and even at the gym," he said. "That amazes me."

Stanley said the quality of the Navy medics has never been in question. He believes the medics in many cases masked the difficulties the health care system, like most of the military, was having. Downsizing and budget constraints affected health care as much as they did combat units, he said. TRICARE appears to be setting things straight.

"I think TRICARE is moving in the right direction," he said. "I really want it to work and I support it."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMaj. Gen. Clifford L. Stanley, commanding general of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., discusses health care issues with Navy Capt. Joan Huber, commanding officer of the naval hospital at the sprawling desert base. Stanley said the success of TRICARE, DoD's managed health care plan, depends in large part on leaders supporting the program and communicating its benefits to service members and their families. Douglas J. Gillert  
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