Story   Reform

Combined Services' Medical Approaches Strengthen DOD, Officials Say

Dec. 6, 2019 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The Defense Department's top two medical officials addressed Congress to clarify how the military services have combined efforts to maintain and strengthen DOD's Military Health System.

The men and women of the MHS are justifiably proud of what they do, Thomas McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said at yesterday's hearing. 

"They provide a platform to train our uniformed medical force, and they ensure our active-duty service members have access to the health care they need … to do their jobs anywhere at any time," he noted.

A soldier carries another soldier on his back.
Best Medic
Army Sgt. Edgar Garza carries his teammate, Army Sgt. Dillon Cooper, the required distance near the finish line of an obstacle course during the Army Best Medic competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 24, 2019. Both soldiers are combat medics with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and were one of 28 two-soldier teams participating in 72 hours of tasks that tested their mental and physical acuity and medical skills.
Photo By: Kirstin Grace-Simons, Army
VIRIN: 190924-A-QU626-178

Military medical personnel support one of the largest and most successful medical research enterprises in the country, the assistant secretary said. 

"They open and operate a global health surveillance network that monitors for infectious threats to our forces in our homeland," McCaffery said. "They manage one of the country's largest networks of hospitals and clinics. They do all that with unfailing professionalism, and, I might add, with incredible passion."

The MHS's primary mission is readiness, in addition to the readiness of the medical personnel to support the forces in battle and the medical readiness of combat forces to complete their missions, McCaffery said.

A sailor uses tools to clean a patient's teeth.
Routine Cleaning
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mary Grace Villarica cleans a patient’s teeth aboard the USS Boxer in the Red Sea, Aug. 19, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Whitley
VIRIN: 190819-N-PX867-1098C

"And that readiness and that readiness mission also entails caring for the families of our troops and our retirees," he added. "[While] service members who deploy must be medically ready to do their jobs, they also need to know that their families back home are cared for and that, in retirement, they will receive a health benefit that recognizes the value of their service. Meeting this obligation to our beneficiaries is vital to recruiting and retaining a high quality force." 

McCaffery said for the MHS to advance its goals, DOD must also adapt and change to carry out the medical mission in an ever-evolving security environment, and a consistently dynamic medical landscape. 

A gloved hand holds a small plastic vial.
Checking Dates
A technician checks expiration dates on reagents in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm
VIRIN: 180725-F-BH656-0009A

"In the past three National Defense Authorization Acts, Congress has given the department very clear direction on the fundamental reforms it expects us to implement," the assistant secretary said. "Building off that direction, we are changing to ensure that the system can most effectively meet our mission."

He noted some of the things the reforms MHS is partnering with Congress on: 

  • Ensuring the uniformed medical force is properly sized and has the skills to respond to operational requirements; 
  • Ensuring that the system of hospitals and clinics is optimally excised and shaped to support the readiness of the mental medical forces; 
  • Ensuring medical readiness of combat forces;
  • Ensuring better organizing and integrating the direct-care system to form a true, unified medical enterprise that can improve MHS' effectiveness and efficiency;
  • Providing a more standardized dependable, high-quality experience for active duty, families and retirees; and 
  • Most effectively managing private-sector care through TRICARE managed-care networks.

McCaffery said all of those efforts are aimed at showing how MHS provides maximum support to the department as it executes the National Defense Strategy. 

Also testifying before the House Armed Services Committee's panel was Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency. DHA is the supporting agency in the readiness mission to combatant commands and to the military departments, he told the panel. 

Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Christina Sizemore, left, and Lt. Cmdr. Krista Puttler, a ship’s surgeon, perform surgery aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean Sea, July 11, 2017. The ship and its carrier strike group are conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations to support U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joe Boggio
Underway Operation
Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Christina Sizemore, left, and Lt. Cmdr. Krista Puttler, a ship’s surgeon, perform surgery aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean Sea, July 11, 2017. The ship and its carrier strike group are conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations to support U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joe Boggio
Photo By: Petty Officer 3rd Class Joe Boggio
VIRIN: 170711-N-SO730-085C

"The MHS' performance on the battlefield has exemplified historically high survival rates of combat wounds and historically low rates of disease and non-battle injuries," the DHA director said. "These successes reflect processes in which joint solutions contributed to these outcomes."

But, as DHA takes responsibility for managing all of the military's hospitals and clinics, Place said, "we continue to view these medical facilities as readiness platforms where medical professionals from the Army, Navy and Air Force obtain and sustain their knowledge and skills."

The DHA approach better enables the MHS to optimize the care delivered along with clinical skill sustainment experiences for the medical staff within and across geographic markets, Place noted.

A sailor puts a medical boot on another sailor.
Proper Protection
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Dallas Evernden applies a controlled ankle motion boot onto Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis Jones at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Dec. 2, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Luke Cunningham
VIRIN: 191202-N-LW757-1005C

"[The] department has long relied on civilian health care to provide and deliver care to our beneficiaries where we don't operate medical facilities or when the needs of our patients exceed the capabilities we have locally," the doctor noted. 

"Over the past three decades, with changes in military basing [and] reductions in the military force strength, we've successfully increased specific civilian health care networks," Place said. "And we are working with the military departments to ensure military families and retirees continue to enjoy access to high-quality care if military, medical capabilities are exceeded."