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Surgeons General: Military Medicine Improving Amid Multiple Missions, Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 17, 2008 – The military services continue working to provide the best medical care possible to servicemembers and their families, promoting best clinical practices while also addressing concerns about rising costs, the top military doctors told Congress yesterday.

The Army, Navy and Air Force surgeons general told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that the Defense Department’s medical programs are improving the care provided to the force as they conduct a broad range of operational missions.

Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, Army surgeon general, said a focus on quality and best value for caregivers’ efforts -- not simply productivity -- is steadily improving the care provided. He reported a “measurable improvement in the health of our population and the delivery of more health-care services every year since 2003.”

“We want to be assured that we’re just not building widgets of health care that don’t relate ultimately to improvement in the health and well-being of our people,” he said. “And ultimately, I think this is what they deserve. … This is about taking care of soldiers and their families and members of the uniformed services as a whole.”

Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., Navy surgeon general, described the dual readiness missions medical health care professions confront. In addition to ensuring the medical readiness of their operational forces, they also provide health-service support across operations ranging from combat support for warriors throughout the world to humanitarian assistance.

Lt. Gen. James G. Roudebush, Air Force surgeon general, elaborated on the scope of these missions. “We respond to our nation’s call, supporting our warriors in deployed locations, and we provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response to both our friends and allies abroad, as well as our citizens at home,” he said. In addition, “our Air Force medics, working with our Army and our Navy counterparts, care for our families at home.”

Robinson cited steady advances in battlefield medicine that have improved survivability rates throughout the force. He emphasized the military medical system’s commitment to providing comprehensive, compassionate care throughout a patient’s recovery process.

Meanwhile, as military medicine plays an increasing role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, it is serving as a critical part of a broader U.S. team, Robinson said. These missions “create a synergy and opportunity for all elements of national power -- diplomatic, informational, military, economic, joint, interagency, and cooperation with non-governmental organizations,” he said.

Roudebush told the Senate panel the military medical system works directly for the military leadership to address three top priorities: “winning today’s fight, taking care of our people and being ready for tomorrow.”

Meeting that challenge, the surgeons general agreed, requires resources, including upgrades to aging hospitals and clinics. But even more importantly, they said, it boils down to people. Across the board, the officers praised the capabilities and commitment of their health-care providers.

“Nothing is more important to our success than our dedicated workforce,” Schoomaker said, echoing his colleagues’ sentiments.

All said they will continue seeking more flexible, innovative and tailored ways to recruit and retain quality professionals to ensure continued progress within their military medical care systems.

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Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker
Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr.
Lt. Gen. James G. Roudebush

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