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A Message to the MHS Community

S. Ward Casscells, M.D.

“At the end of 2006, medical teams were still saving an unbelievable 90 percent of soldiers wounded in battle… They did so through a commitment to making a science of performance, rather than waiting for new discoveries. And they did it under extraordinarily demanding conditions and with heroic personal sacrifices.” 1 As one of the leaders of the Military Health System (MHS), I am acutely aware of the humbling responsibility we have been given: the care of our country’s fighting forces, their families, and the veterans who have gone before. Our team has performed exceptionally; nothing less than remarkable can describe the unprecedented outcomes that military medicine has achieved during this conflict. And, we as a system have achieved these results only as a consequence of a culture based on innovation, service to others, and an unrelenting persistence to achieve excellence.

Yet, we have also experienced a significant wake-up call for action and improvement only weeks after the 2007 annual conference. The Washington Post series was a watershed event – a defining moment. It has provided a singular opportunity to reinvent the disability-rating process and to look inside our culture and operations to determine how we can exceed the expectations of those for whom we care most, our military family.

The War on Terrorism has forced us to deal with complex illnesses, such as traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder, in numbers we’ve never seen before. These conditions affect not only our wounded, but also their loved ones and the entire military family. We owe those entrusted to our care our greatest compassion and caring, the benefits of the best available science, and the treatment and support that make them partners in their own healing.

These pressures have also allowed the senior medical leadership, the Surgeons General, and our collective staffs to reexamine our fundamental purpose, strategy, and activities. It has provided an opportunity to refocus our efforts on our core business – an integrated medical team providing optimal health services in support of our nation’s military mission—anytime, anywhere.

As leaders of this vast and wonderful health system, we are committed to sustaining the uniformed health system to enable us to meet our mission and ensure high-quality, benchmarked healthcare is available for all those entrusted to our care. The MHS will be the healthcare choice of our military families and the workplace of choice in our communities.

Our strategy is not about the future – it is about the future of decisions we make today. 2 The senior MHS leadership has a responsibility to provide a plan that lets all of our MHS staff know their leadership cares. And, we owe our stakeholders a way to measure the effect of our work. Our senior leadership strategic sessions will refine our goals and strategies until we are the best health system on the planet.

A generation was once inspired to put man on the moon. We can do even better. Our dedicated people help the severely wounded rejoin the workforce and regain their purpose for living. We can build bridges to peace in hostile countries. In many respects, the MHS becomes the tip of the spear and a formidable national strategy tool for the nation. And we can take advantage of a one-time opportunity to design and build health facilities that promote integrity during the clinical encounter, empower our patients and families, relieve suffering, and promote long-term health and wellness. We will employ evidence-based design principles, including increasing natural light, reducing noise, and maximizing exposure to nature – all of which have quantitative outcomes that are linked to clinical improvements.

We care for troops who are honoring a pledge they made to the country they love. Secretary Gates calls our work sacred. He is absolutely correct. Caring for America’s heroes is not a motto. It is what we do. My role is to help us achieve excellence and to articulate to you, our members and stakeholders, the value of what the men and women of this health system produce every single day.

Just over a year ago, I worked side-by-side with some of you in Iraq. I also lost a very dear friend, COL Brian Allgood, as many of you did. I know many of you have suffered loss during this war. Having been a uniformed medic means more to me than any award or experience in my life. Some wonder how I deployed while on continuous chemotherapy, but I knew I was surrounded by the finest medical professionals in the world. You who serve and have served our nation simply inspire me, and I am honored to be associated with you. God bless you.

- S. Ward Casscells, M.D.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

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