Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder announced today the implementation of a new clinical guideline for use by military and Veterans Affairs physicians in caring for the unique needs of military personnel and their families. Informed by a decade of lessons learned from the Gulf War, military and Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians are now better prepared to provide care for military personnel returning from Afghanistan and other deployments. The cornerstone of this new health initiative is the Clinical Practice Guideline on Post-Deployment Health Evaluation and Management developed jointly by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Service members and their families will begin to experience the benefits of this guideline starting in early March.
"Keeping our active duty members healthy is an important aspect of force health protection. This guideline assists physicians and patients by focusing on specific health concerns that may be deployment related," offered Winkenwerder.
The development of the guideline represents a two-year multidisciplinary effort involving experts from the VA, Army, Navy, Air Force, and DoD. Specialty experts included clergy, social workers, nurses, toxicologists, epidemiologists, risk communications specialists, psychiatrists, and family practitioners. Health care providers at Fort Bragg, N.C., Camp LeJeune, N.C., and McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., were part of a guideline demonstration project.
"This guideline, which provides a structure to assess and manage post-deployment health, is primarily about improving the medical care for post-deployment concerns among all our patients, whether an active duty servicemember, a spouse, a child, a veteran or reservist," explained Army Lt. Col. Charles Engel, a collaborator in the development of the guideline. Engel directs the Deployment Health Clinical Center, a DoD center based at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Since the Gulf War, "opportunities for change and improvement have emerged as a result of lessons learned through the implementation of the DoD's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program and the VA's Gulf War Registry, research studies, and feedback from veterans," said Engel, a practicing psychiatrist and a Gulf War veteran.
"The guideline," said Mark Brown, Ph.D., director of the VA's Environmental Agents Service, "was developed in response to the health care needs of Gulf War veterans with difficult to diagnose yet sometimes debilitating deployment-related symptoms." Brown added, "In the long-run the Clinical Practice Guideline will give VA primary care providers the tools needed to diagnose and treat veterans returning from combat and peace-keeping missions abroad."
The guideline also applies to individuals who were not deployed, but who link their concerns to a military deployment, for example, family members of recently deployed active duty personnel. The guideline also will offer physicians support in monitoring the long-term health of patients with deployment health issues and provide patients with the education they need to take an active role in their health care delivery.
"In the new approach we will disseminate up-to-date information to all clinicians about all deployments and essentially make them more knowledgeable about deployment health issues," said Engel whose Deployment Health Clinical Center will be responsible for monitoring the improvement of post-deployment care in primary care settings and insuring improvements in the quality of data gathered. The major route for disseminating this information is the Center's new Web site, PDHealth.mil, located at http://www.PDHealth.mil . The guideline, as well as the proceedings of a satellite broadcast about the guideline, may be found on this Web site.