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Former Artilleryman Is New TRICARE Senior Enlisted Adviser

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2002 – A straight-shooting former Army artilleryman turned nurse now gives advice to senior DoD health affairs and TRICARE Management Activity leaders.

Sgt. Maj. Harry L. Robinson, 43, TMA's new senior enlisted adviser, has been on the job just under a month, having reported for duty after an assignment at the 249th General Hospital at Fort Gordon, Ga.

Possessing a bachelor's degree in healthcare administration, a master's in educational leadership, and licensed practical nurse credentials, Robinson said he provides the enlisted perspective on military medical matters to Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and to Thomas F. Carrato, TRICARE Management Activity executive director.

Robinson said he has spent 21 of his 25 years in the Army in military healthcare, adding that he became interested in switching his military occupational specialty when he injured his ankle at Fort Hood, Texas.

"I got injured playing basketball, went to the medical treatment facility, interacted with a couple of corpsmen, and thought, 'Hey, this seems like a pretty good job,'" he said. "Then, they told me about the LPN program the Army had. ... That's what I re-enlisted for."

Today at TMA, Robinson said he sits in on several boards and panels and is "shared" as an enlisted advice expert by Carrato and Winkenwerder. He said he also attends most of the meetings that take place about TRICARE at the senior leadership level.

For example, Robinson said, he advises Carrato, his direct boss, how DoD-TRICARE military medicine policies impact on enlisted members.

An unabashed advocate for TRICARE and military medicine in general, Robinson emphasized that the decade-old TRICARE program has improved greatly in the last five years. However, he added, there is always more to do.

"They've ironed out a lot of the wrinkles, like when you stand up any program," he said, pointing to the newly initiated TRICARE for Life and senior pharmacy programs for beneficiaries over age 65.

Robinson is impressed with DoD's and TRICARE's senior leadership, noting, "As (military healthcare) problems are brought up ... they address them," he emphasized. "It hasn't all been fixed, but we're working at it."

One big project coming up, he said, is the competition for the next generation of TRICARE contracts. Another issue, he added, involves the need to better educate company, battalion and, sometimes, brigade commanders to better understand TRICARE, including the differences between the troops' Prime and Standard program options.

Commanders need to understand TRICARE, "to ensure that their soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines understand it," Robinson said, including military families.

TRICARE Prime means beneficiaries go to military medical facilities for care, Robinson noted. TRICARE Standard means beneficiaries contact TRICARE network providers to obtain off-post medical care. TRICARE Standard costs are split between the beneficiary and TRICARE, he noted.

TRICARE Standard, Robinson noted, is especially handy when service members are stationed at remote locations far from military medical facilities.

The war against global terrorism, to include homeland defense, he noted, has taken top priority in the military medical field today.

"Homeland defense is key. You'll see that the military is playing a very important role," Robinson said. The military medical community, he remarked, is adept at nuclear, biological and chemical weapons detection, protection, decontamination, immunization and treatment procedures and it has "stepped up to the plate" to share expertise with other federal, state and local agencies in support of homeland defense.

For example, "military labs are being used to help sort through the anthrax issues," he noted, while other units have the ability to decontaminate mass numbers of individuals, equipment, and buildings. Military doctors, nurses and other health professionals, he added, have routinely practiced providing medical care in NBC mass casualty scenarios.

"The military can do that. That's what we've been training for," Robinson noted.

In respect to routine healthcare operations, TRICARE officials are seeking ways to manage clinics and hospitals more efficiently, Robinson remarked. "We've been asked to be more accountable for the dollars that we use in our facilities, which is an expectation that all taxpayers would want," he said.

Robinson noted another initiative that involves TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs joining operations where feasible. A presidential task force is studying what can be done jointly.

"We both run healthcare, we both deal with pharmaceuticals. There are things in the budget we can manage and deal with and work out that will save taxpayers' money," he explained.

For example, he noted, the military and VA already share hospital space at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. Other places sharing space are Fort Hood's William Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas, and Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, Robinson noted.

Senior DoD healthcare leaders "are sincere in their efforts to improve and maintain a high quality healthcare system" for active duty troops, Guard and Reserve, military retirees and family members, Robinson said.

"Our leadership really cares about making a difference. They're all trying to do what's best for the TRICARE beneficiary," he concluded.

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