Thursday, January 10, 2008

General discusses base realignment issues at town hall

Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein

Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, commanding general for the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, spoke with the Walter Reed staff about his expectations for Base Realignment and Closure and the integration of WRAMC and the National Naval Medical Center into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) during a town hall meeting Aug. 23 in the Heaton Pavilionís Joel Auditorium.

Under BRAC, the specialty capabilities of WRAMC will move to either NNMC in Bethesda or DeWitt Army Community Hospital (DACH) at Fort Belvoir.

Schoomaker outlined the future for what will be known as the National Capital Region Medical Health System (NCR MHS) and explained the five missions set to guide the armed forces medical field no matter where they may be located.

Those five missions are: health services; combat casualty care; military medical readiness; health education; and biomedical and clinical research.

Another priority is recruiting and retaining WRAMC employees to continue to provide state-of-the-art medical care, research and administrative support during the BRAC process, he said.

ìWe are not closing Walter Reed, we are moving it,î Schoomaker told the audience. ìItís not about the buildings or the pictures on the wall, itís about you.î

He said that although not every civilian will be going to Bethesda or DeWitt, a main focus over the next three or four years is for leaders and planners to think of innovative ways to retain quality civilians through bonuses and incentives.

One of the recommendations outlined by The Presidentís Commission on Care for Americaís Returning Wounded Warrior, co-chaired by Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, is that WRAMC must have the authority and responsibility to recruit and retain first-rate professionals to ìcontinue its historic role as a vital tertiary care and research center until the day it actually ceases operation.î

The report noted about one in five injured servicemember come directly to WRAMC, and there are more than 700 outpatients on Walter Reed campus.

After BRAC, WRNMMC will provide about 80 percent of the combat casualty care.

National Capital Region Medical Health System will maintain readiness to ensure the armed forces are ìdeploying a medically- ready force, and also deploying a ready medical force,î Schoomaker said.

He summed up the importance of health education and research. ìIf we arenít part of the future of how we do medicine ó this kind of medicine, this demanding kind of medicine ó we will not sustain the gains weíve survived in this war Ö we will continue to have a deliberate, focused attempt to improve their survival.î

Schoomaker answered questions and explained that BRAC is meant to minimize the overhead of running Department of Defense organizations and help armed services medicine run even more efficiently by leveraging resources from all three services into one joint medical system.

ìWill we turn back the clock on BRAC? No we wonít and we shouldnít,î he told the audience. ìIf anything [BRAC] is going to be accelerated Ö weíll do what we can to accelerate the process and we have the funding to do so.î

The NARMC/WRAMC commanding general said he sees this move as an opportunity to build ìthe hospital of the futureî and he encouraged the staff to continue to push the envelope and be innovators in the field, noting that in 1998 four percent of amputees remained on active duty and today the number is at 20 percent.

The Military Advanced Training Center (MATC), set for a Sept. 13 grand-opening, will also be moved to Bethesda and every piece of equipment in the MATC is portable.

The MATC is a multi-functional and multi-disciplinary center aimed at retraining injured Soldiers to become ìtactical athletes.î

Also, within the last six months a center to treat Traumatic Brain Injury, one of the leading injuries in the Global War on Terror, has been added to the plans for WRNMMC, Schoomaker said. The center is embedded to help accelerate the treatment of TBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

To help the integration process along during the next three or four years, a new Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF NCR) will be established and led by a yet unnamed three-star commander, Schoo-maker said.

He explained that this is to streamline the process and make sure every serviceís requirements and mission are being met.

As for WRAMC, Schoomaker said there will be no degradation of services as integration and BRAC initiatives move forward. ìWe will change the light bulbs, paint the walls and keep training.î