Thursday, March 19, 2009

Medical Infrastructure Affects Readiness, Pentagon's Top Doctor Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

March 19, 2009 - The more than 1,000 major facilities that make up the Defense Department's medical infrastructure are key strategic national assets, the department's top medical official told Congress here yesterday. Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittees on military personnel and readiness that he not only is an advocate for military medicine and practitioners, but also is committed to dramatically improving the medical infrastructure – a responsibility he said he takes very seriously.

"Our buildings support vital, diverse and worldwide missions of the military health system," Casscells said. "We need outstanding facilities to deliver patient care, train medical professionals, conduct cutting-edge research and provide the support functions necessary to succeed on the battlefield and protect our nation."

The department's current medical infrastructure includes 59 hospitals, 663 medical and dental clinics, 258 veterinary clinics, 26 medical research and development offices, 19 training facilities and 10 medical installations.

The facilities are well-maintained, but improving such a large, diverse and complex set of buildings pose substantial challenges, Casscells said. About 41 percent of inpatient facilities are more than 40 years old, and 72 percent were built more than 20 years ago.

"Most of our hospitals were constructed prior to the introduction of modern and ever-changing clinical processes and technology that today are considered the standard of care," he added.

Military health care is one of the few functions that can be fairly, and directly, compared to the civilian sector, said Casscells, who called for a need to compete with the private sector to preserve the loyalty of the military community.

"The perceived quality of our facilities can often influence the perception of the quality of care we deliver," Casscells said, noting that instances of unfavorable perception by patients have prompted their willingness to seek care outside of the military health system. "In order for the military health system to succeed, we need a diverse and robust mix of patients coming through our doors to train and maintain the readiness of our medical staff and our deployable medical capability."

Military medical facilities also are among the few functions subject to outside civilian review. To maintain their accreditation, military facilities pass civilian inspections to civilian standards to continue operations, he said.

But because medical buildings normally cost more to build and operate than other Defense Department facilities, restoration and new construction projects within the military must be budgeted responsibly, he said.

"Just as we have a responsibility to care for our people, we also must serve as stewards of the resources provided by the American taxpayer," he said. "We must provide and operate truly excellent facilities but do so in a fiscally responsible manner."

Casscells said the military health system provides life-saving services to both "the toughest warfighter and the most vulnerable newborn," work that affects the readiness of the armed forces. Military health services affect the willingness of servicemembers and their families to continue serving, he added.

"Our facilities represent the tangible commitment we make to our active duty servicemembers and their families," he said. "Investing in our buildings tells people that we care about them. Where our facilities fall short, we send a signal that taking care of our people is not a high priority."

Troop Support Group Helps Vets, Military Families Find Jobs

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

March 19, 2009 - Military veterans and spouses in the New Jersey area are getting help finding jobs from a troop support group. The G.I. Go Fund will join forces with New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and the city of Newark to host its first Veterans and Military Family Job Fair on March 21 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Nearly 40 government and private employers are scheduled to participate in the job fair, including the Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Marshals, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Prudential, Coca Cola, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"We decided to host this job fair in response to the growing number of unemployed veterans reaching out to our organization for assistance in finding jobs" Alexander E. Manis, deputy director of the G.I. Go Fund, said.

Manis stressed that the event is more than just a job fair. "We are working with government agencies and other nonprofit organizations in providing outreach to our veterans and their families."

Classes will be held that will focus on foreclosure prevention, Veterans Affairs home loans, and help from the Small Business Administration and Helmets to Hardhats, a group that works to employ veterans.

Agencies conducting these classes include the VA Department, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Library for the Blind and Handicapped.

"Computer terminals will also be available with access to Web site so veterans and their spouses can learn about and apply for government employment," Manis said.

The G.I. GO Fund is a New Jersey-based group that works to provide a smooth transition for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars re-entering civilian life. The group expects as many as 300 veterans and family members to participate in the job fair.

Manis said he would like to encourage other troop support-groups to plan and sponsor veterans job fairs across the country.

"As the growing unemployment rate among veterans is not localized in New Jersey, but is found throughout the country, we all should be encouraged to do something for our veterans," Manis said. "Although these are tough economic times, there are employers that are hiring and looking for the values and dedication to hard work that veterans have."