You’ve had a chance to visit medical units in the field over the past few years. Can you give us some of your observations on the quality and capability of care and caregivers who are delivering medical treatment to our deployed personnel overseas?
If I had to take one group to single out to get the “Unsung Hero Award” in the Global War on Terror, it would be the military medical community. The doctors and the Veterans Administration that take care of these people once they’re discharged are doing tremendous work.
I had a young man working for me that stepped on an IED [improvised explosive device] and had both legs blown off in Iraq. The care he received at the battlefield stabilized him until he got to the trauma unit. Sixty-eight surgeries and three or four years later he’s going to Harvard Law School. He is a medical miracle.
When I do my active-duty tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I always go to the hospitals. In Afghanistan, these are multinational medical providers. The one thing I can tell the families back home is that I’ve never seen so many dedicated professional people on the front lines of a war delivering health care.
We’ve learned in Iraq and Afghanistan how to stabilize people who have been traumatically injured. It is going to help America as a whole provide better emergency health care. The combat medical teams out there are saving lives in this war that would not have been saved in any other.
What would you say are the one or two things that concern you most in DoD medicine these days?
Basically, as we reduce base footprints through the Base Realignment and Closure process, we’re reducing the number of health care providers, and access to DoD health care is shrinking. My big concern is about TRICARE members and their families getting enough physicians in the hospitals to provide adequate care for the whole family, not just for the service members. We’ve got to do a better job of signing up providers for TRICARE. As the DoD medical facility footprints shrink, as the number of Navy and Air Force and Army hospitals are reduced, that puts more pressure on TRICARE to deliver.
Let’s ask basically the same question about the VA. What do you see there that you like best and what do you see that concerns you the most?
What I like best is their customer-oriented service. They’re changing their attitude and coming up with prescription drug programs that really do deliver a higher quality of service than I’ve seen in my military life at times. I also see a real robust VA budget, and see collaboration between the VA and the civilian community to provide better service and more capacity. What concerns me, quite frankly, is as we try to build out this organization, it’s the same thing. Once you get out of the VA provider network, once you get away from a veterans’ hospital, more and more people are coming off active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and going to the rural parts of the country where there’s no VA hospital within a couple or three hours. How do we reach them? Getting quality health care to the veteran in rural America I think is a big challenge for the VA.