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Physician Says DOD Focused on Improving Mental Health of Force

Defense Department health leaders provided testimony today at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing. 

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez said the department is committing resources with a focus on preventing suicides of military and family members. 

A sign reading "Your Life Matters" is shown in grass.
A sign reading "Your Life Matters" at the entrance to the Lincoln Air National Guard Base in Lincoln, Neb., marks Suicide Prevention Month, Sept. 9, 2022.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Lisa Crawford
VIRIN: 220909-Z-QR920-0025Y

"We recently received the recommendation from the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee and are continuing to implement strategies that can help reverse the heartbreaking trends that we have witnessed both in DOD and in the nation," he said. 

Mental health is an issue that can be discussed today, he said. "In the Vietnam days, for whatever reason, we didn't talk openly about these kinds of issues that needed to be spoken about," he said. 

Spotlight: Suicide Prevention

However, there is still a stigma about discussing mental health crises. Changing the culture takes time. "We're really making headway. But we're not done yet," he said. 

"It's not just a medical issue. It's an issue that encompasses personnel actions. It's an issue that encompasses financial issues. Anything that brings more stress, we have to figure out how to lessen that load on service members," Martinez-Lopez said. 

"We are resolute in our commitment to ensure combatant commanders have the medical resources necessary to protect, treat and provide long-term care and medical services to our men and women in uniform," he said. 

The department remains grateful for the long-term support from this committee for military medical research in those areas of most pressing needs and relevance for today's emerging threats, he said. 

Two people in military uniform administer medical care to a person’s leg.
Medical Care
U.S. Army soldiers treat a patient with a gunshot wound at a free medical clinic for residents during Exercise Justified Accord 23 at Larisoro Community Dispensary, in Larisoro, Kenya on Feb. 19, 2023.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Steven Eaton
VIRIN: 230219-Z-JK986-423

That includes combating infectious diseases, treating combat casualties, and other areas of importance to warfighters, he said. 

DOD's fiscal year 2024 budget will present a balanced, comprehensive strategy that aligns with the secretary's priorities, he said. 

Three people in military uniform work on a medical mannequin.
CPR Simulation
U.S. Navy corpsmen practice administering CPR on a simulated patient aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, March 6, 2023, in the Philippine Sea.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Jennings
VIRIN: 230306-N-YV347-1027

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle testified that "Army medicine has achieved the highest survivability rate for soldiers wounded on and off the battlefield in recent decades. We did this by remaining agile and adaptive. We applied the lessons from operations and developed a holistic system for future operations in austere locations." 

Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce L. Gillingham noted that "Navy medicine is taking urgent action to support the Navy and Marine Corps and save lives in a contested battlespace that is quickly growing in lethality, complexity and scope," he said. 

Surgeons work on patient in an operating room.
Joint Replacement
Concentration, focus and professionalism are on full display during a robotic-assisted joint replacement surgery at the Belvoir Hospital Feb. 23, 2023, Fort Belvoir, Va.
Photo By: Reese Brown, DOD
VIRIN: 230223-D-TQ271-048

Another key priority, he said, is ensuring sailors and Marines have access to the full continuum of mental health resources.  

"Embedded mental health remains vital for mental wellness by placing mental health as far forward as possible," he said. 

Physicians practice training on a medical mannequin.
Emergency trauma nurses, treat a simulated patient during the Tactical Trauma Reaction and Evacuation Crossover Course at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas, Feb. 23, 2023.
Photo By: Jason W. Edwards, DOD
VIRIN: 230223-D-HZ730-0359Y

"Our ability to quickly deploy and support a crisis response around the world makes military medicine unique, but more importantly, demands that we're both operationally relevant and clinically prepared," he said. 

Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland and Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Robert I. Miller also testified.


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