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
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