Military Health System in Time of Transition as Conflicts End

by U.S. Medicine

February 9, 2013

By Jonathan Woodson, MD, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) & Director of TRICARE Management Activity

Jonathan Woodson, MD

The Military Health System is entering a time of transition. After a decade making unprecedented strides in battlefield care, military medicine must now focus on the future. Our way forward is clear: The health and well-being of our beneficiaries and war-fighters is our primary mission, and we must look for innovative ways to continue to provide the best healthcare our nation has to offer.

In the coming years, as the healthcare needs of the defense community change, some truths remain the same. Prevention is a key to success, and health is more significantly impacted by lifestyle than anything a medical professional does for a patient during an annual physical. The Military Health System is actively transitioning from a culture of healthcare to one of health. Our goal is to educate and empower each military community to reap the benefits of a long and healthy life.

While it is common knowledge that living a healthy lifestyle will greatly enhance quality of life and overall health, the MHS’s move to embrace a culture within the medical community of promoting overall wellness is of great significance. This simple shift in the concept of how best to serve the military community holds the potential to impact an entire population.

Preventable health issues not only impact our military community and our nation, but also our readiness and our daily lives. Every year, we spend billions on the treatment of preventable illness and injury. These issues affect how we feel and even our emotional well-being, because they can cause more stress, which impacts our physical and psychological health.

Operation Live Well

The National Prevention Strategy, released in 2011, has developed a cross-sector, integrated national strategy that identifies priorities for improving the health of Americans. Through the National Prevention Strategy, DoD has launched a broad-spectrum campaign aimed at making healthy living an easy choice. Our healthy-living campaign, “Operation Live Well,” directly aligns with the National Prevention Strategy and is the product of an interagency collaboration between the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), the armed services, the National Prevention Strategy committee and a growing base of partner governmental organizations.

The campaign is designed to educate and inform our servicemembers and their families about healthy behaviors, provide readily-accessible information and resources to enhance the resiliency of the force, and support overall DoD objectives of moving from healthcare to health.

The overall goal of Operation Live Well is to ensure the healthy choice becomes the easy choice and the social norm. As medical providers, we can’t force our military community to live healthy lives, but as a whole — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, families, civilians, veterans and the supporting community — we can work to promote healthier living. We will do this by working together, across the entire spectrum, to share innovative ideas for making healthy choices easier for all of us.

Operation Live Well will reshape military installations into healthier environments for troops and their families by updating menu standards in our dining facilities. It will reinforce preventive medicine by teaching our soldiers and their families how to stay out of the doctor’s office by making the right choices. It will seek to create a culture of healthy behaviors to maintain not only a healthy military community, but a firm state of readiness, as well.

Mental, Emotional Well-Being
Jonathan Woodson, M.D., assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs, addresses the Fort Detrick, Md., chapter of the Silver Caduceus Society at its quarterly meeting this fall.

Another essential element of the health of our community is mental and emotional well-being. Perhaps more so than any other sector of our nation’s population, the defense community must remain focused on resilience and must not back down from our ongoing commitment to maintain the psychological health of our force and their loved ones. Mental and emotional well-being is essential to overall health. Positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

In addition, reducing the stigma associated with mental-health services is important to improve access to and utilization of effective mental-health treatment. Just as a culture of good psychological health is essential to readiness and maintaining a healthy fighting force, so is a culture of acceptance for those who choose to seek help. We simply cannot afford to let a single member of our community slip through the cracks.

To reduce the stigma of seeking help, whether real or perceived, the DoD is partnering with our line leaders to identify and assist anyone who might need help. While our healthcare providers have the expertise in treating psychological injuries and distress, we can do nothing if the people who need help never make it to us. Therefore, we must work together to better integrate our medical providers and experts with our community. Working together, we must create an environment of acceptance.

The future good health of the defense community lies in the education and empowerment of individuals, communities and leaders. Many population-health concerns can be mitigated and often avoided altogether. Efforts to educate and motivate people to make healthy choices should occur across the lifespan, with a particular emphasis on ensuring that young people are provided with the knowledge, skill and opportunity they need to allow them to become healthy adults. When people have access to actionable and easy-to-understand information and resources, they are empowered to make healthier choices.

Healthy living is a cooperative commitment that must be undertaken by each of us. Doctors, commanders, servicemembers, spouses, colleagues — all are responsible for managing our health and encouraging each other.

Our military has never failed to confront any challenge. The good news is, we know how to win the fight against unhealthy living. Working together, we will succeed and become a model for the nation.


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