You’ve stated that TRICARE and the VA have been delivering health care in a fairly efficient model. What do you see in TRICARE and Veterans Affairs that might provide useful models for the ongoing public health care debate?
The electronic health care record system we’re trying to put in place will improve quality of care. A lot of medical mistakes are made because of a lack of good information.
When you move your files from one part of the country to the other, the physician treating you in the new location should know everything about your health care history so they can make good decisions. The VA has invested billions of dollars in improving electronic health care records. DoD has a model system there because of a sort of captive audience.
Generally speaking, what I think we can learn from the DoD and the VA is collaboration in health care practices that keep people healthy. The military is very focused on keeping people fit because that’s required to do your mission.
You can literally get an Article 15 [administrative punishment] if you get sunburned, if you’re negligent in the way that you take care of yourself. So I would like to stress wellness like the VA and the DoD do, because at the end of the day it’s cheaper and provides a better quality of life to keep people out of the hospital than it is to treat them inside one.
What do you have in the way of legislative goals in the next few years for expanding medical care and benefits for service personnel, their families, and veterans?
No. 1, to expand the number of options available to TRICARE recipients by getting more providers in the network. Eye care, ophthalmology, dental care, expanding health care options to ensure wellness. On the VA side, to create legislation that would allow them to partner with the civilian community to leverage their dollars. More coverage … more collaboration.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
One thing that I’d like to say is that every time I do a Reserve tour, I’ll hear about a story that moves me but that I think is typical.
On my last tour in Afghanistan, the first day I was there they announced the death of a 59-year-old sergeant first class who had retired from the Army. He was from Guam, had served four tours of duty in Vietnam, and came back on active duty to serve in Afghanistan.
Every morning, he would start PT [physical training], running around the track with the American flag. He was a very big guy with a strong affection for the Afghan people. This was a man who had it made, had grandchildren, came out of retirement, volunteered to go on a mission.
He got killed in an IED blast. Stories like his inspire me.
At his memorial service, there were a lot of Afghans there and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I just want to tip my hat to him and all like him. We’re lucky as a nation to have men and women like that.
This story was first published in The Year in Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine 2009-2010 Edition.